Climate summit deemed a COP out after final text leaves Paris agreement in jeopardy

COP28 has dominated the global agenda for the past three months as it arrived with bold statements that this was the climate summit which would bring the world together in the fight to limit global warming.

Instead it has ended in acrimony and a joint statement that some believe has fallen far short of what many climate advocates, and nations had hoped to see.

The thorny topic of the continued use of fossil fuels was always going to be an issue given that the summit was being hosted by the UAE which has built much of its economy on the export and production of oil and gas products.

Talk is cheap as the old saying goes and when the draft agreement was circulated at the start of this week there was anger from some after the wording around the phase out of fossil fuel use has been watered down to the point that many say it had been washed away.

The agreement about phasing out fossil fuels in line with commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees had been turned into a wording where the parties “could” take certain actions to reduce emissions rather than saying that they “will” or “must” take actions.

Indeed the term fossil fuels was missing replaced with the word “emissions”. If it was not bad enough any reference to the phasing out fossil fuels was replaced by the term “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels”

At the eleventh hour a new Global Stocktake Agreement was signed off and one which directly addressed the use of fossil fuels, a key demand from many countries at this year’s talks.

It calls on countries to “transition away” from fossil fuels “in this critical decade”.

Mike Davis, Global Witness CEO said: ‘’Governments have agreed, after 28 attempts, what we’ve known for decades – we must reduce fossil fuel use. At a COP run by petrostates and flooded by thousands of oil and gas lobbyists, that simple acknowledgment is a hard-won victory.

But we should be realistic about what the failure to agree a phase-out means: fossil fuels forever. This agreement sends a signal to those thousands of lobbyists who gathered at COP – there is a long and profitable future for their destructive businesses, regardless of what the science tells us.

Serious climate action means no loopholes, no reliance on unproven technology and an immediate phaseout, with massive financial support for the transition from the richest countries and from big polluters.”

Kaisa Kosonen, Head of the COP28 Delegation, Greenpeace International: “This isn’t yet the decision that the world needs or deserves but there are some improvements in the call to transition away from fossil fuels. The signal that the fossil industry has been afraid of is here: ending the fossil fuel era, along with a call to massively scale up renewables and efficiency this decade, but it’s buried under many dangerous distractions and without sufficient means to achieve it in a fair and fast manner.

There is a call for an equitable transition away from fossil fuel and to achieve net zero by 2050, and we know that this, coupled with sustainability and done in line with 1.5 will necessitate a phase out of fossil fuels by mid century.

What we need now is a final outcome on the fossil fuel phase out without all these dangerous distractions and loopholes. And we will need a stronger commitment on financial support for those developing countries that need it to transition their energy systems, along with a recognition that developed countries need to move fastest. So countries still have a lot to do.”

Where it leaves businesses and their ESG journeys is yet to be defined. Despite the wishes of climate activists who would like to see an immediate end to fossil fuel use, even with the best intentions 2050 would not have signalled the end to fossil fuel energy.

But in a week when the UK Met Office predicted that 2024 may well break the 1.5°C global warming target set in Paris, following a 2023 which is shaping up to be the hottest year on record, COP28 will be viewed as summit which simply did not reach the required heights.

Jon Guy, Editor,

Emerging Risks