What’s going on here?

The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28 to its friends) has published its long-awaited and much-anticipated deal. After nearly a fortnight of talks, gaffes and disappointments, governments have agreed to “transition away” from fossil fuels.

What does this mean?

COP28 was hosted in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Its aim was to agree a new climate action pact between the 198 participant nations. It’s fair to say it did not go well. Delegates had been working on a deal that would call for an end to fossil fuels by 2050. But oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia and its allies opposed the policy.

This led to the removal of a promise to ‘phase out’ fossil fuels which provoked outrage around the world. Closed-door negotiations to finalise the wording went on into the night on Tuesday, the final day of COP28. The agreed deal was finally published with the new wording on Wednesday morning, dubbed the UAE Consensus.

Finance commitments have also been watered down after intense disagreements over who should pay to help low- and middle-income countries transition to renewable energy, and how much. The new agreement has been criticised for its lack of detail on how the transition will be paid for.

UK readers may be particularly appalled to know that amid this tense and high-stakes negotiation, climate change minister Graham Stuart left the conference for a round-trip to London. Why? To vote in the House of Commons in favour of sending refugees to Rwanda.

Why should we care?

The key takeaway is that this is the first time that a COP agreement has even contained the phrase “fossil fuels”.

That might sound like progress, but many, including The Alliance of Small Island States, are dissatisfied with the deal, after initially pushing for stronger wording. What’s more, the agreement to transition away from fossil fuels isn’t legally binding so for now it’s just words. And it’s also full of loopholes, like allowing the switch from oil to gas as a “transitional fuel”.

We don’t need to tell anyone reading this why “phasing out” or “transitioning away” from fossil fuels matters. But the COP process matters too, even if it’s tempting to roll our eyes at the farce that this one became.

The Paris Agreement in 2015, which aimed to limit global heating to 1.5C, marked a huge shift in the ways that governments around the world legislate on climate. Businesses responded too, albeit too slowly.

Many are cautiously optimistic that this deal, despite being watered down, could spell the beginning of the end for fossil fuels. It contains some promising pledges, like a commitment to increase renewables

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell remarked in his closing speech: “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end…now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”

Be curious!

Featured image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.