This year’s COP28 started with a controversy.
Days before the annual climate change summit started, this year’s appointed president, Sultan al-Jaber, claimed in an online event that there is “no science” behind demands for the phasing out of fossil fuels.
During the summit, which took place from 30 November to 12 December 2023, he vigorously defended himself by saying that his comment was misinterpreted and that he, as an engineer by profession, strongly believes in and respects science.
Another point of contention is that Mr. al-Jaber also runs Dubai’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), the state-owned oil company of the United Arab Emirates.
After two weeks of arduous negotiations, with more than 100 countries strongly lobbying to “phase out” oil, gas and coal use, at the end of the climate summit, representatives from 200 countries were able to reach a consensus on the language of the final text which use the phrase to “transition away” from fossil fuels specifically for energy systems, but not for plastics, transport or agriculture to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Reuters reports the deal calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner … to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”
The article says that the deal describes what some countries are already doing with some enacting policies to transition to greener economies. Europe and the US, for instance, have retired fleets of coal-fired power plants, installed renewable power capacity at record rates, and encouraged the sale of EVs.
“The deal calls on governments to accelerate that – specifically by tripling of renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, speeding up efforts to reduce coal use, and accelerating technologies such as carbon capture and storage that can clean up hard-to-decarbonise industries” (Volcovici et al., 2023).
The deal to transition away from fossil fuels is a big win for the robust opposition from the Saudi Arabia-led oil production group OPEC, which claimed the world could reduce emissions without “shunning specific fuels”. Members of the OPEC control close to 80% of the world’s proven oil reserves and a third of global oil output, with their economy highly dependent on fossil fuel sales, the article says.
Climate activists and Small Island states are unhappy about the COP28 agreement.
In the early morning of 13 December, COP28 president al Jaber presented the final draft agreement to nearly 200 nations. Some revisions to the previous draft had sparked protests inside the venue, with some countries, particularly the small island developing states (SIDS), which are most vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Their representatives fought hard about using the “phasing out” of fossil fuels in the final draft.
In the end, the phrase “Transitioning away from fossil fuels” was used in the final agreement. Understandably, small island developing countries complained that the agreement had been approved without their consent. They pointed out that the global deal to shift away from fossil fuels lacked specific dates and had plenty of caveats and loopholes”, the New York Times reports.
“It seems that you just gaveled the decision, and the small island developing states were not in the room,” said Anne Rasmussen, the lead negotiator for a group of 39 small island states, with anger in her voice. “This process has failed us” (Bearak & Plumer, 2023).
Taking centre stage of COP28 is the first ever Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement and what it would say about fossil fuels. The stocktake will be done every five years and designed to check progress against countries’ nationally determined (NDCs). The stocktake is a “ratchet mechanism” designed to accelerate climate action to meet goals.
Carbon Brief thoroughly analyses all the key outcomes of COP28 and discusses what took place during the summit – both inside and outside the COP.
The report, “COP28: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Dubai,” also includes an interactive table showing a list of countries and blocs and what they want from this year’s climate summit.
NY Times reports that after three decades of United Nations climate deals that neglected even to mention fossil fuels like oil and gas, COP28 president al-Jaber presided over the summit that explicitly targeted the leading cause of global warming. Behind closed doors, away from the press, negotiations arrived at an agreement that calls for the transition away from fossil fuel “in a just, orderly and equitable manner” and a tripling of global renewable energy capacity by 2030, along with a pledge to ensure that emissions from fossil fuels will peak by 2025.
However, the landmark deal did not satisfy everyone as it failed to call for a “phase out” of oil and gas usage due to the intense lobbying from members of the OPEC, a cartel of oil-producing nations led by Saudi Arabia.
Reactions to the final agreement among leading researchers range from positively welcoming to dismissive. Many of them agreed that the outcome of COP28 represented a slight progress in climate action—but those small steps were not enough, Forbes reports.
The real progress experts say what countries will do or what immediate policy action the government will implement the transition away from coal, oil, and gas.
Volcovici, V., Dickie, G., & James, W. (2023, December 14). Nations strike deal at COP28 to transition away from fossil fuels. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/countries-push-cop28-deal-fossil-fuels-talks-spill-into-overtime-2023-12-12/
Carrington, D. & Stockton, B. (2023, December 3). Cop28 president says there is ‘no science’ behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/dec/03/back-into-caves-cop28-president-dismisses-phase-out-of-fossil-fuels
Laville, S., & Horton, H. (2023, December 4). Al Jaber says comments claiming there is ‘no science’ behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels were ‘misinterpreted’ – Cop28 as it happened. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/live/2023/dec/04/cop28-backlash-after-president-claims-no-science-behind-fossil-fuel-phase-out
Bearak, M. & Plumer, B. (2023, December 13). In the End, an Oil Man Won a Climate Summit Deal on Moving Away From Oil. NY Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/13/climate/sultan-al-jaber-cop28.html
Chandrasekhar, A., Dunne, D., Dwyer, O., Evans, S., Gabbatiss, J., Lempriere, M., Patel, A., Tandon, A., & Viglione, G., (2023, December 13). COP28: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Dubai. Carbon Brief. Retrieved from https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop28-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-dubai
Vetter, D. (2023, December 13). As COP28 Ends, 21 Climate Experts Deliver Verdicts Both Positive And Brutal. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2023/12/13/as-cop28-ends-21-climate-experts-deliver-verdicts-positive-and-brutal/?sh=6a2f4fb51ea1