It is, in short, the most powerful thing that a climate summit has achieved. But that does not mean it falls short of the minimum necessary to stop the crisis. The final agreement of COP28 reflects the intention of the countries to make the transition from fossil fuels “in a fair, orderly and equitable manner”. But it is vague, both in language and objectives, and falls far short.
The final agreement is the third version presented in about two weeks. It is the result of the struggle between those who called for the “gradual elimination” of fossil fuels – more than 100 countries advocated for this – and the call for the “reduction” in their use that was finally approved. It is also a consequence of the leadership of Sultan Al Jaber, chosen by Dubai as president of COP28, accused of using the preparatory meetings for the summit to favor his country’s agreements on oil and gas exploitation.
“This is a real victory for those who are pragmatic, results-oriented and guided by science,” declared Al Jaber, who is also director of the state oil company ADNOC. The president of COP28 had already said that “there is no science” to show that the elimination of fossil fuels is necessary to limit global warming. His management at the meeting was supported by the presence of 2,400 delegates related to the coal, oil and gas industries. There were more than the government representatives.
While some celebrated, António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations who has been demanding urgent action for years, spoke of “delays”, “indecisions” and “half measures”. «To those who opposed a clear reference to the phasing out of fossil fuels… I want to tell you that it is inevitable, whether you like it or not. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late,” Guterres said after the final agreement was known.
What objectives does the COP28 agreement raise?
This year is expected to end with a record number of emissions: about 40.9 billion tons of CO₂, the main polluting gas causing the greenhouse effect. The majority of these emissions are caused precisely by the burning of fossil fuels.
This is the first time that countries have agreed to declare that the transition away from fossil fuels is necessary. But that’s where the history ends. The document does not establish obligations for governments, clear limits or a calendar of actions.
On the contrary, it asks “the parties to contribute” a list of climate actions, “according to their national circumstances.” The COP28 agreement raises “triple renewable energy capacity” and “double average energy efficiency” annually by 2030. If this were achieved, it could reduce oil demand by 25% by the end of the decade, the International Energy Agency estimates.
But, again, the text remains a timid call. A draft released on Saturday considered the option of a “phasing out of fossil fuels in accordance with the best available science.” Delegations from the United States, the European Union and several island countries defended the proposal, but risked no agreement being reached. The nearly 200 countries had to give the go-ahead—or at least not object—or the summit would end without a joint declaration.
Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) urged its partners to oppose any condemnation of fossil fuels. Thus, on Monday they moved from “phasing out” to a version that said nations should “reduce the consumption and production of fossil fuels in a fair, orderly and equitable manner.” For this reason, the final declaration on the energy “transition” was celebrated by some activists, taking into account that it could have been worse.
The admission of failure
The group of small island nations objected to some aspects of the text, but agreed not to undo the COP28 agreement. These countries are one of the most dramatic faces of the climate crisis. Celebrating what happened would be like “celebrating the flowers that will rest on our grave.”», declared Brianna Fruean, a renowned Samoan activist, to the BBC.
Fruean explained that what has been agreed will not prevent the limit of 1.5 °C of global warming from being exceeded, the base objective of the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 by almost all nations. He highlighted that the survival of the islands is at risk. This 2023, Global average sea level reached its all-time high.
Regarding the transition process from fossil fuels, the agreement only establishes that “action in this critical decade” must be accelerated. And he repeats a commitment with a distant goal that had already been mentioned before: zero emissions by 2050, “in line with science.”
This lukewarm proposal does not correspond to the dark balance contained in the same COP28 document. The countries recognize in the text that to prevent warming from skyrocketing above 1.5 °C, “deep, rapid and sustained reductions” in gas emissions are needed. They mention what the scientific community has already warned ad nauseam: They must be reduced by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035, compared to the 2019 level.
But what has been proposed so far is very far from this goal. According to the document, it is projected that the emission levels of polluting gases will only fall by 5.3% in 2030. This, if the reduction plans presented by the governments are fully implemented.
No clear assistance for the most vulnerable
“It is clear that eight years after the Paris Agreement, we are still a long way from limiting global warming to 1.5°C and avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis,” he said. Manuel Pulgar-Vidalwho was president of COP20 in Peru in 2014. He warned that this summit leaves “dangerous distractions.”
The summit also closes without clear help to the poorest countries. At last year’s meeting, it was agreed to create a new “loss and damage” fund. It was expected that on this occasion clear rules for assistance and commitment by the richest—and most polluting—countries would be defined. But COP28 “urged”, again, developed countries to contribute to the fund.
More than $400 million in aid has already been announced, which will be managed by the World Bank. Almost insignificant support. The UN estimates that up to $387 billion will be needed annually for poor countries to adapt to climate change.
The United Nations maintains that There is only a 14% chance that we will succeed in limiting global warming to below 1.5°C. 2023 is going to be the hottest year in history. If everything continues like this, we are on track for an increase of between 2.5 °C and 2.9 °C in this century.
«End fossil fuels. “Save our planet and our future,” Licypriya Kangujam’s banner read. The 12-year-old Indian activist took the stage at COP28 on Monday. The representatives of the world governments, after the surprise and clearly uncomfortable, decided to applaud him. For “her bravery and her enthusiasm,” they said from the microphone to the audience. Judging by the final agreement, almost a mockery of the claim.