Key takeaways from COP28: The beginning of the end for fossil fuels?

COP28 makes the first move toward ending the fossil fuel era. Celebrated achievements include the loss and damage fund and a push for renewables, marking a step toward a sustainable future. Stay informed on key global issues.

COP28, held in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023, culminated in a pivotal agreement that is interpreted by many to signal the end of the fossil fuel era. It stands out as the first UN climate summit to conclude with a call to tackle the primary driver of the climate crisis. This pact mentions a transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. While the response to the deal has been largely positive, concerns linger regarding potential loopholes and surrounding the lack of a full phase-out of coal, oil and gas. However, the unprecedented reference to transitioning away from fossil fuels holds the potential to reshape global economies, but more decisive language is required to encourage climate action. The conference, attended by close to 100,000 participants, featured panel discussions, speeches and meetings dedicated to finding common ground on crucial climate issues.

Some notable achievements at this year’s conference include a global goal to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency, declarations on agriculture, food and health, and increased participation of oil and gas companies in addressing methane emissions. This year’s conference, however, encountered delays as countries debated whether to include the term “phasing-out” fossil fuels, with support from The Alliance of Small Island States and the EU and opposition from OPEC member states. The outcome of this debate played a pivotal role in determining the success ranking of this year’s COP meeting.

 

Ultimately language on fossil fuels was embedded in the final agreement, the statement is as follows:

Position Green at COP28: 


“Attending COP28 in Dubai was a remarkable experience, offering insight into both the strides made and the challenges we continue to face in our collective journey toward a sustainable future.”
Ted Paulus

“Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

COP28 Declaration

1. New funding commitments to the Loss and Damage Fund

COP28 began on a positive note with agreement on the deal details of a climate disaster fund building on the deal brokered at COP27 in Egypt. In addition to collecting commitments, participants at this year’s summit deliberated on the effective operation of the fund, with plans for its board to convene in January to formalise the framework and commence operations. This fund represents a crucial step forward in addressing the urgent needs of vulnerable communities and developing nations grappling with the severe consequences of climate disasters. The fund garnered support from various countries, signalling a collaborative effort to confront the challenges posed by the climate crisis. However, lingering concerns persist regarding the sufficiency of the pledged funds, particularly in light of the staggering estimated annual damages of $400 billion attributed to climate change. While hailed as a significant move, advocates emphasise the need for substantial pledges, especially from high-income countries as the needs for climate finance continue to grow.

2. Fossil fuels explicitly incorporated into the agreement for the first time

The most notable conclusion reached at COP28 on Wednesday calls on countries to shift away from fossil fuels. It stands as a landmark development, representing the first COP agreement to explicitly address fossil fuels as the main contributing factor to climate change and outline commitments to reduce emissions and shift towards renewable energies. While initial concerns arose due to the lack of precise language on a fossil fuel phase-out or phase-down in the Monday draft, the final text gained majority consensus among the 200 participating countries, addressing the need to transition away from fossil fuels responsible for nearly 90 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Despite criticism over relatively weak terms, such as “calls on” and “transitioning away,” the agreement sets a proposed time frame for achieving net zero by 2050, aligning with scientific recommendations. Additionally, COP28 initiatives, including the Global Cooling Pledge, Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter and Industrial Transition Accelerator, aim to further collaborative efforts for emissions reductions.

3. Commitments to fund vital climate initiatives

Climate finance accountability was a key topic at COP28, with developed nations urged to fulfil commitments for global equity in combating climate change. The need for robust funding underpins climate action, supporting developing countries’ transition, adaptation efforts and recovery from climate-induced damages. Headway was achieved on the New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG), extending beyond the $100 billion pledged by developed nations for climate initiatives in developing countries. COP also agreed to formulate a post-2025 finance target prior to COP29. President Al Jaber highlighted the mobilisation of over $85 billion in new financial commitments spanning various climate sectors. He also emphasised the importance of implementation and the direct influence it has on the success and impact of climate action. The COP28 resolution calls for sustained commitments to scale up investments in climate-resilient and low-carbon initiatives. Interestingly, it named taxation as one of the “new and innovative sources of finance” for governments to explore.

4. Prioritisation of renewable energies and efficiency

The summit underscored a clear shift towards renewables as the future primary sources of energy. The final deal urged countries to triple renewable energy capacity globally and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. Energy experts see this as a substantial achievement, marking the first instance where the global community acknowledges the ambitious scale needed in this decade to establish a new, clean energy system. The expansion of solar and wind energy, coupled with decreasing prices, reflects the growing momentum in these sectors. COP28’s emphasis on renewable energies signals to markets that increased investments in this domain are imminent. While hailed as progress, climate groups advocate for stronger language on renewable energies in future summits.

5. The 1.5°C objective remains a central topic of discussion

COP28 marked the first global stocktake since the Paris Agreement, serving as a critical mechanism to assess and measure global progress towards the goals outlined in the agreement. This year’s agreement emphasises the need for significant, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in order to remain aligned with the 1.5°C target. Achieving this goal entails cutting emissions nearly in half within six years and reaching net-zero by 2050. The key focus is on the urgent decarbonization of the energy system, necessitating an accelerated transition to clean energy from both the demand and supply sides. Despite progress, there’s acknowledgment that current efforts are insufficient and COP28 underscores the need to intensify global actions in order to meet the goals under the Paris Agreement.

Corporate involvement and climate technology developments are key

COP28 saw a significant engagement from the private sector in addressing climate challenges, with over 150 businesses and financial institutions committing to climate and nature targets under the Science-Based Target Network and Science-Based Target International’s Forest Land and Agriculture frameworks. These commitments entail increased investments in nature-based solutions and a comprehensive assessment, management and disclosure of nature-related impacts through the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework. The role of technology in driving a sustainable transition was emphasised, with leaders highlighting the importance of research and development into carbon capture initiatives. The conference acknowledged the critical role of the private sector and stressed the need to enhance policy guidance, incentives, regulations and enabling conditions to attract the necessary investments for a global transition towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

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