- The deal gains support from the U.S., EU, and key oil-producing nations
- Emphasizes an urgent and orderly shift from fossil fuels, termed the “UAE Consensus,”
- Arrives at the end of the hottest recorded year, marked by severe droughts and wildfires
- US-China’s Joint announcement of new long-term climate plans showcased rare alignment of interests
The conclusion of the COP28 climate talks in Dubai marked a historic milestone as the world committed to an unprecedented transition away from all fossil fuels. Spearheading this pivotal agreement was the president of the U.N.-sponsored summit, Sultan Al Jaber of the UAE. He skillfully brokered a deal that garnered support from influential players like the U.S. and the European Union, while maintaining cooperation from major oil producers, including Saudi Arabia.
In a groundbreaking move, the final agreement emphasizes the urgency of shifting global energy systems away from fossil fuels in a just and orderly manner. Notably, this consensus recognizes the need for a collective effort, urging countries to contribute to a global transition rather than imposing an outright mandate for individual shifts. Termed the “UAE Consensus,” this accord arrives at the close of the hottest year on record, marked by severe droughts and devastating wildfires.
Deal Acknowledges Transition Away from Oil and Gas
While the agreement falls short of the specific fossil fuel “phase-out” desired by many countries, it represents an unprecedented leap forward. Notably, previous COP texts had not explicitly addressed the transition away from oil and gas, the foundational fuels of the global economy for decades.
The speed at which this commitment transforms into reality hinges not only on diplomatic negotiations but also on the actions of investors, consumers, and national governments. Despite a previous pledge to phase down coal in Glasgow two years ago resulting in increased consumption, this agreement introduces a novel dimension by allowing the use of natural gas as part of the transition to clean energy.
The decision in Dubai serves as a crucial marker in the global trajectory towards a low-carbon energy system. The agreement includes provisions to triple the deployment of renewable power and double the rate of efficiency gains by the end of the decade. Additionally, a separate COP28 agreement, established at the summit’s onset, operationalizes a hard-fought fund dedicated to addressing the losses and damages incurred due to climate change.
COP28 Highlights Fossil Fuels’ Dwindling Investment Appeal
Sultan Al Jaber, also the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., underlined the significance of turning this agreement into tangible actions, emphasizing that an agreement’s value lies in its implementation. As he aptly stated, “We are what we do, not what we say.” The world now stands at a crucial juncture, tasked with translating this historic agreement into meaningful strides toward a sustainable and resilient future.
Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy, highlighted the significant signal this sends to investors regarding the trajectory of future energy markets. Speaking after the final plenary meeting at Dubai Expo City, Morgan emphasized the imperative to move swiftly in implementing the agreed-upon measures.
“Every investor should understand now that the future investments that are profitable and long-term are renewable energy—and investing in fossil fuels is a stranded asset.”
– Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy
The language embedded in the COP28 agreements positions renewable energy as the cornerstone of profitable and sustainable future investments.
China-U.S. Talks Steer COP28
Talks between the U.S. and China, the world’s leading emitters, played a pivotal role in setting the stage for the historic COP28 agreement. The strategic positioning of their delegations in Dubai and the regular interactions between U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, underscored a collaborative approach. Their joint announcement of new long-term climate plans and discussions during a plenary session showcased a rare alignment of interests.
The agreement reached on Wednesday, December 13, 2023, known as the “global stocktake” of the Paris accord, is designed to shape upcoming national emission plans. However, the task at hand is formidable, as governments must collectively reduce global emissions by 43% by 2030 compared to 2019 to meet the 1.5-degree warming target. Despite rising global emissions and existing government plans pointing toward 2.5 degrees of warming, the agreement marks a notable departure from past climate talks.
Historically, climate agreements, dating back to the first global-warming agreement in 1992, avoided explicit mentions of “fossil fuel” due to opposition from major players like China, India, Saudi Arabia, and at times, the U.S. However, the conclusions from COP26 in Glasgow two years ago signaled a shift by calling for the phasing out of inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies.
This year’s climate talks took on added urgency as a series of climate-related disasters, including wildfires in Canada and record heat waves across the Northern Hemisphere, highlighted the immediate and severe impacts of climate change. The UN’s declaration that 2023 is the warmest year ever measured further underscored the pressing need for global action.
A Last-Minute Victory Against Odds
Despite criticisms and debates over Al Jaber’s influence and the science of climate change, the conclusion of the summit positions him to assert his successful stewardship. Al Jaber strategically integrated the oil and gas industry into the COP process during his presidency, prompting a notable increase in fossil fuel company representation, drawing ire from climate activists.
While concerns were voiced about the absence of commitments on oil and gas production levels, an agreement among over 50 companies to drastically reduce methane emissions, a gas significantly more harmful than carbon dioxide, emerges as a potential game-changer in emission reduction efforts.
Saudi Arabia adamantly opposed any mention of a fossil fuel phase-out in the COP28 text, with the Energy Minister dismissing the idea. Despite the pushback from OPEC, the final text, albeit diluted, reflects concerns about targeting fossil fuels. The coalition of oil-producing nations found themselves isolated, unable to resist the consensus.
Professor Myles Allen at the University of Oxford commended the UAE Presidency’s unexpected success, remarking, “Everyone seemed ready to write COP28 off just 24 hours ago, you have to hand it to them.” However, for small island nations grappling with the harsh impacts of rising sea levels, the agreement’s focus on incremental steps toward phasing out fossil fuels left them dissatisfied.