COP28 ends in Dubai with historic fossil fuel transition pact
Photo courtesy of COP28 / Christopher Pike

COP28 ends in Dubai with historic fossil fuel transition pact

The COP28 climate conference has concluded in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), with a landmark agreement to transition away from fossil fuels, marking the first time such a commitment has been explicitly included in a final COP agreement. More than 100 countries also pledged to triple renewable energy, and major oil and gas players committed to decarbonising direct emissions and reducing methane emissions. Additionally, more than 100 countries signed a declaration focusing on the impact of food and land-use changes on carbon emissions.

​​COP28 refers to the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The COP is an annual global summit that brings together representatives from countries that are parties to the UNFCCC to discuss and negotiate international responses to climate change.

Each COP serves as a critical forum for reviewing the implementation of the UNFCCC and for advancing global efforts to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. These conferences are pivotal in shaping international climate policy and action, including the implementation of key agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

The COP28 climate talks extended into overtime as countries pushed for a significant deal on fossil fuels. The extended discussions reflect the complexity and urgency of reaching a consensus. A key aspect of the talks is the reduction of fossil fuel consumption, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Countries were negotiating terms that would lead to a substantial decrease in the use of coal, oil, and natural gas, while promoting renewable energy sources.

The negotiations faced challenges due to divergent views among countries on how to transition away from fossil fuels. Developing nations, in particular, are seeking support and resources to shift towards cleaner energy without hindering their economic growth.

The concluding accord, termed the “UAE Consensus,” urged nations to expedite the transformation of their energy systems away from fossil fuels, ensuring the transition is both equitable and systematic. The agreement emphasises collaborative global efforts for this transition, rather than mandating individual countries to undertake the shift independently.

Although the resolution doesn’t fully meet the expectations of some countries for an explicit phase-out of fossil fuels, it represents a significant breakthrough. This is the first instance in COP texts where there’s a mention of transitioning away from oil and gas, which have been the cornerstone of the global economy for many years.

At COP26 held from October 31 to November 12, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland, a significant focus was on addressing coal consumption, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The discussions initially aimed for a “phase-out” of coal power. However, due to nuanced negotiations and objections, notably from India and China, the final Glasgow Climate Pact adopted a less stringent “phase-down” approach for unabated coal power, which refers to coal-generated power without carbon capture and storage technology.

Coal continues to be a predominant source for electricity generation, steel production, and cement manufacturing, and it is a leading contributor to anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, CO2 emissions that are the direct result of human activities. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that global coal demand rose by 6% in 2021, reaching about 7.8 billion tonnes, largely fueled by the post-pandemic economic recovery, especially in Asia, which is the primary consumer of coal. The future trajectory of coal demand—its peak, the level at which it will stabilise, and the rate of its subsequent decline—remains uncertain. The IEA’s upcoming Coal 2023 report, scheduled for release on December 15, is expected to provide further insights into these trends.

It’s important to note that while the Glasgow Climate Pact represented a significant step in international climate negotiations, the commitments and pledges made are not legally binding. The effectiveness of these pledges largely depends on the actions and policies implemented by individual countries following the conference.