COP28 summit in UAE approves deal transitioning away from fossil fuels
Representatives from nearly 200 countries agreed at the COP28 climate summit on Wednesday to begin reducing global consumption of fossil fuels to avert the worst of climate change, a first of its kind deal signaling the eventual end of the oil age.
The deal struck in Dubai after two weeks of hard-fought negotiations was meant to send a powerful signal to investors and policy-makers that the world is united in its desire to break with fossil fuels, something scientists say is the last best hope to stave off climate catastrophe.
COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber called the deal "historic" but added that its true success would be in its implementation.
"We are what we do, not what we say," he told the crowded plenary at the summit. "We must take the steps necessary to turn this agreement into tangible actions."
Several countries cheered the deal for accomplishing something elusive in decades of climate talks.
"It is the first time that the world unites around such a clear text on the need to transition away from fossil fuels," said Norway Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide. "It has been the elephant in the room. At last we address it head on."
More than 100 countries had lobbied hard for strong language in the COP28 agreement to "phase out" oil, gas and coal use, but came up against powerful opposition from the Saudi Arabia-led oil producer group OPEC, which argued that the world can slash emissions without shunning specific fuels.
That battle pushed the summit a full day into overtime on Wednesday.
Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries together control nearly 80 percent of the world's proven oil reserves along with about a third of global daily oil production, and their governments rely heavily on those revenues.
Small climate-vulnerable island states, meanwhile, were among the most vocal supporters of phasing out fossil fuels and had the backing of huge oil and gas producers such as the United States, Canada and Norway, along with the EU bloc and scores of other governments.
Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Dan Jorgensen marveled at the circumstances of the deal: "We're standing here in an oil country, surrounded by oil countries, and we made the decision saying let's move away from oil and gas."
The deal specifically calls for "transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science."
It also calls for a 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-decarbonize industries.
Leading rights group Amnesty International welcomed the move, but stressed that the "outcome leaves loopholes allowing fossil fuel producers and states to continue with business as usual, and so falls short of what is needed to protect the rights of billions of people facing climate harms."
Amnesty also criticised the lead-up to the summit, saying COP28 was sullied by the restrictions on civic space and human rights, as well as the record numbers of fossil fuel lobbyists at the summit. It also slammed Dubai for carrying out a new mass trial of dissidents on trumped up terrorism charges as the summit began.
"We are calling for COP hosting arrangements to be strengthened and for Host Country Agreements to be published as a matter of course to guarantee respect for and protection of human rights and for the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) to develop a clear conflict of interest policy and robust accountability framework," it said.
Now that the deal is struck, countries are responsible for delivering on the agreements through national policies and investments.
In the United States, the world’s top producer of oil and gas and the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, for example, climate-conscious administrations have struggled to pass laws aligned with their climate vows through a politically divided Congress.
US President Joe Biden scored a major victory on that front last year with passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which contained hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for electric vehicles, wind, solar and other clean energy technologies.
Mounting public support for renewables and electric vehicles from Brussels to Beijing in recent years, along with improving technology, sliding costs, and rising private investment have also driven rapid growth in their deployments.
Even so, oil, gas, and coal still account for about 80 percent of the world's energy, and projections vary widely about when global demand will finally hit its peak.
OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais had said in a letter dated December 6 to OPEC members and allies at COP28 that the world should target emissions rather than fossil fuels themselves, rallying them to oppose any deal targeting oil.
Oil producers have argued that fossil fuels can be cleansed of their climate impact by using technology that can capture and store carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture, however, is expensive and has yet to be proven at scale.