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Reactions: COP28 approves "transition away from fossil fuels" in Global Stocktake

After an intense night of negotiations in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), the countries participating in COP28 reached a historic agreement by mentioning for the first time "moving away from fossil fuels" in the Global Stocktake document - the assessment of progress made towards achieving the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The agreement comes after the first draft presented by the presidency did not make this mention - it referred only to "reducing consumption and production" of these fuels - which was described as "unacceptable" by countries such as Spain.

13/12/2023 - 10:25 CET
 
COP28

EFE/EPA/MARTIN DIVISEK.

Expert reactions

Alejandro Caparrós - COP28 EN

Alejandro Caparrós

Professor of Energy Economics at Durham University (UK) and CSIC research professor

Science Media Centre Spain

A transitional COP. The meeting in Dubai concluded by adopting the first global stocktake. The stocktake reminds us that much remains to be done, although it also recognises that progress has been made since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. If the nationally determined commitments (NDCs) are met, which remains to be seen, the world is heading towards a warming of between 2.1 and 2.8°C, instead of the 4°C we would be heading towards without these commitments. After arduous negotiations, at the mere mention of fossil fuels, the balance sheet also indicates that to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century the world must transition away from fossil fuels ("transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems"). A no-brainer if we accept the goal of zero net emissions by mid-century.  

The agreement is only relevant in that it implies that the process initiated with the Paris Agreement is still alive and has passed its first step, its first stocktaking. This is not trivial, as the process initiated in Kyoto was interrupted when it came time to renew it for the first time, in Copenhagen in 2009. In the meantime, global emissions have continued to grow. The world needs short-term commitments and actions, we already have enough long-term commitments. In this area, COP28 has left us with a commitment to triple installed renewable energy capacity by 2030 and a modest increase in financing for developing countries.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

María José Sanz - COP28 EN

María José Sanz

Scientific Director of the BC3 Basque Centre for Climate Change, member of the IPCC Bureau and president of the Alliance of Severo Ochoa Centres and María de Maeztu Units (SOMMa)

Science Media Centre Spain

It shows multilateralism is delivering and the Paris Agreement can be delivered. But this is the beginning of a path we need urgently accelerate. The first stock take is based on science and calls for urgent action mentioning for the first time on fossil fuel and more ambition targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency, while looking for just transitions.

It raises Adaptation at the level of Mitigation while recognizing the Adaptation finance gap and moves forward the fund and funding arrangements for Loss and Damages, a critical issue for the most vulnerable.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

Alicia Pérez Porro - COP28 EN

Alicia Pérez-Porro

Scientific coordinator of CREAF

Science Media Centre Spain

On the face of it, it is difficult not to assess the final COP28 text positively if we base it solely on the expectations most of us had of an agreement coming out of a COP in a petro-state whose president, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, is not only the chairman of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, but has also publicly denied the science behind the demands to phase out fossil fuels. But since we are talking about a diplomatic instrument, the value is in the details. 

The COP28 agreement will not allow the world to maintain the 1.5°C limit because the countries present at COP28 have agreed to abandon fossil fuels (the exact words in the final text are "transition away"), but they do not commit to a total phase-out (what was called for by scientific institutions, climate activism and the countries most affected by the climate emergency was "phase out"). On the positive side, the outcome is a significant moment for global climate action because this agreement manages to make it clear to all financial institutions, companies and societies that we are finally - eight years behind what was established in Paris - at the true "beginning of the end" of the global economy driven by fossil fuels. 

Continuing with the positive reading, and looking beyond the final text because the COPs are much more than that, on the COP28 Nature, Land Use and Oceans Day (9 December), 18 countries - including Spain - endorsed the COP28 Joint Statement on Climate, Nature, and People, promoted by the COP28 Presidency of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the COP15 Presidency of the CBD (United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity), uniting for nature and placing it at the centre of climate action. The joint statement represents a new vision for aligning climate and biodiversity policy agendas and stipulates that nations must align both nationally and internationally around the Paris Agreement and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The collective ambition expressed in the joint statement aims to encourage and support the implementation of their respective national instruments: NDCs, National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), Long Term Strategies (LTS) for climate and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) for biodiversity. 

Another positive outcome was the Leaders' Declaration on the Food System, a global commitment to be realised at regional and local level. The 134 countries that produce 75% of greenhouse gas emissions from food - accounting for 30% of total emissions - and consume 70% of all food globally, have agreed to transform food systems for the benefit of climate, nature and people. Signatory countries must collaborate and align climate commitments with the goals of protecting and restoring nature, and to this end have committed to include food systems approaches in their updated NDCs, their NAPs, as well as in their NBSAPs. In this way, the declaration sets out a framework for transformative food-based climate and environmental action. 

It is true that it is disappointing to see how a very small number of countries have been able to put short-term national interests before the future of people and nature; however, let us think of these COPs as a series. COP28 has been just one chapter, the series is not over and there are many interwoven plots that are moving forward at different speeds, but moving forward nonetheless.

is a member of the Advisory Committee of SMC Spain.

EN

Fernando Valladares - COP28 EN

Fernando Valladares

PhD in Biology, CSIC researcher and associate professor at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid

Science Media Centre Spain

The 28th Climate Summit ended with a report that was better than expected on the last day, but insufficient. The agreement is historic in some respects because, undoubtedly, there is finally talk of moving away from our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. That is historic. It is also historic that this has been achieved in an oil-producing country, with a president of the summit who is also the president of an oil company. It has many historic nuances and some cause for celebration, but it is clear to no one that COP28 has fallen far short, especially because the terms are not strong enough. Let's remember that it was swinging between the word "phase out" fossil fuels, especially oil, and "reduce", which was ambiguous, vague and very disappointing for almost everyone. A phrase was found, an intermediate terminology, which is to "transition" towards reduction and elimination, and this has been accepted and is in the document and is somewhat better than just leaving a vague "reduce", but it reflects the diplomatic difficulties and the difficulties for serious commitments. 

For me the main problem with this document and the resolutions reached is that they are not binding. Countries are left free to do or not to do, and there is no sanction, no consequence if countries do more or do less. These two features make these agreements just too loose a framework for the situation we are in, where climate change has picked up extraordinary speed in the last two years. That speed of climate change is not at all reflected in this document, in these summit conclusions. 

Summit 28 is full of very generic but rather vague words, which could also have been used at a summit 10 years ago. We are not there and yet, as is often said, we are continuing to make pompous and polite declarations, but it is true that some progress has been made. There are aspects related to human health, with adaptation to climate change, which is already here, with compensation funds for damages and losses caused by climate change. However, these are modest steps forward. Let us think about the amounts that countries are contributing to this compensation fund for damage and losses. They are, for the moment, small amounts and also the international organisations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, are not yet able to fully specify and orchestrate the financial mechanisms. 

So we have made progress since the Glasgow Summit (last year's summit in Egypt was just a short break). In Glasgow, many of the issues that are now being addressed were on the table and some progress has been made. In other words, there is some reason to rejoice but, in general, there is more reason to be concerned. I think we have to channel our concern, from citizens to professionals more or less related to aspects that may have a carbon footprint or strategies to mitigate climate change. We have to channel that concern towards concrete and quick solutions, something that is not in the COP document. They are neither concrete nor quick. There is talk of a transition decades away. Methane is indeed being mentioned as a gas - apart from CO2 - that is important in the greenhouse effect, and there is a call for emissions to be reduced. Emphasis has been placed on tripling renewable energies and doubling energy efficiency, which is a step in the right direction, but these are not miracle solutions either. 

This opens up an uncertain and perhaps not entirely fortunate parenthesis on other forms of energy that are less carbon-intensive or have a smaller environmental footprint, even opening up the possibility of nuclear energy once again. These are doors that are being left open, probably with a view to complicated futures. Gas has been one of the big beneficiaries because it is seen as the transitional energy form par excellence and we know that gas, although it is better - in the sense of emissions - than oil and much better than coal, is by no means free of causing climate problems, so relying too much on gas is not the solution either. It can help transition, which is the spirit, but in the way it is written it allows countries, companies and organisations to interpret and apply it in different ways. 

So the summit leaves a lot of work to be done, it is not concrete enough, it does not reach the levels of urgency commensurate with an emergency, but at last it explicitly addresses the key problem of fossil fuels and not the generic umbrella of emissions - in a vague sense - that need to be reduced. Oil production and consumption is now talked about as something to be eliminated, although the word "eliminate" itself has been qualified a little. These are some small steps forward in a summit that has fallen short, but less short than we feared in the last few hours.

is a member of the Advisory Committee of SMC Spain.

EN

Vanesa Castán - COP28 EN

Vanesa Castán Broto

Professor of Urban Climate Change at the University of Sheffield 

Science Media Centre Spain

The resolution adopted by COP28 (Global Stocktake) is replete with references to the Paris Agreement (mentioned 101 times) and the IPCC report (mentioned 15 times), but is unlikely to help meet the goal of reducing emissions to safe levels as envisaged in those documents. In the midst of all this 'acknowledgement,' 'invitation,' or 'thanks' it is easy to overlook that this document is the framework for action for the development of national climate change plans (NDCs). The actions called for in these plans, detailed in point 28 of the resolution, demonstrate the difficulty of conceiving of a future without fossil fuels, which is a real tragedy. Space is left even for coal, for which a 'phase-down' is simply projected, and the next point recognises the role of 'transition fuels' (better known as 'natural gas') in the transition to clean energy. It is incomprehensible: how can the use of fossil fuels help us move away from fossil fuels?  

What is most worrying about the resolution is its emphasis on technological solutions that will sooner or later rescue us from disaster because it entrenches a technocratic way of thinking that distances us from the need for a negotiated transition (which is a condition for it to be just). The transition is social and political, and there are no magic solutions that will get us out of this quagmire. Although technologies for the removal and development of greenhouse gas emissions have advanced over the last decade, their large-scale deployment is still an achievement that we will only see in the distant future. These technologies present their own challenges: high energy and land requirements, unknown environmental and social impacts, social and planning conflicts, etc.  

The text proposes an orderly transition, which is also just and equitable, led by national governments. But there are other ways of imagining this transition: a transition in which what counts is not only what happens at COP28 and what the big oil companies do, but a transition led by the people, in their lives and in their relations with governments and the environment around us. A people-led transition is a transition where sustainability is demanded at all levels, from local to international politics; where there is active participation in local services (as in energy communities) and services respond to local needs; where workers refuse to sustain a declining fossil fuel industry. Beyond international politics, the clean energy transition benefits us all and holds us all accountable".

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

Carlos de Miguel - COP28 EN

Carlos de Miguel Perales

Lawyer and Professor of Civil and Environmental Law at ICADE Law School (Universidad Pontificia Comillas)

Science Media Centre Spain

As usual, there has been uncertainty until the last moment as to whether or not an agreement would be reached on essential issues, in this case, most notably fossil fuels. It is therefore a positive step that a call has been made to the parties to abandon it.  

But the actual scope of this agreement is conditional on relevant issues that will need to be clarified. For example:  

  1. How the difference between "transitioning away", which is what has been agreed, and the more blunt "phasing out" initially pursued, should be interpreted. 
  2. How this transition is to be financed. 
  3. How the agreement on subsidies will be implemented, consisting of the elimination (in this case, phasing out) "as soon as possible" of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transition. 
  4. The role that transitional fuels, which it is claimed can play in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security.
The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

Francisco Doblas - COP28 EN

Francisco J. Doblas-Reyes

ICREA Professor, Director of the Earth Sciences Department at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center 

Science Media Centre Spain

This agreement offers positive aspects, such as the mention of progressively moving away from the use of fossil fuels for energy generation in an orderly and equitable manner, and the increase in both renewable energy penetration and energy efficiency.

However, the use of "transition away" instead of "phase out" seems to indicate acceptance of the possibility of exceeding the 1.5°C threshold in the coming years, since, in order to avoid exceeding it, global emissions reductions must be very ambitious and rely on CO2 capture to be below that warming threshold by the end of the century.

The insufficient ambition in the reduction of emissions that the text of the agreement reveals (its implementation remains to be seen) and the continuation of global warming in the coming decades make efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already being experienced on a local and regional scale even more relevant. It is especially important that adaptation financing by countries with the capacity to adapt is commensurate with the challenges that the most vulnerable countries need, because otherwise, in addition to human and ecosystem losses, economic losses risk reducing their capacity to make an orderly transition to a fossil fuel-free energy system.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

Lisa Schipper - COP28

Lisa Schipper

Professor of Development Geography at the University of Bonn

Science Media Centre UK

The COP started with a bang when the loss and damage fund was agreed, but over the course of the meeting, the lack of funding flowing into it became a major source of disappointment. If anything, this continues to be the big weakness.

An early statement by the COP President about the lack of science behind phasing out fossil fuels sent shockwaves to scientists, especially those who had contributed to the IPCC AR6, since the science in the report is so clear that fossil fuels need to be phased out to prevent a point of no return.

Calling the COP a failure suggests that there is an alternative pathway for a global plan to address climate change, but there is no other format than the UNFCCC that gives every country in the world a seat at the table.

 

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

Ilan Kelman - COP28 EN

Ilan Kelman

Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London

Science Media Centre UK

Another COP circus extravaganza has ended with yet more documents offering little substance. Its modicum of progress was needed, and was known to be needed, more than a generation ago. COP has become a distraction from, not momentum toward, effective action. For addressing human-caused climate change and, in tandem, all other sustainability aspects, we have achieved much more outside of COP.

The author has declared they have no conflicts of interest
EN

Shaun Fitzgerald - COP28 EN

Shaun Fitzgerald

Director of the Centre for Climate Repair and Director of Research at Cambridge Zero

Science Media Centre UK

We must first appreciate the momentous acknowledgement at the end of a COP for the first time that ‘countries will transition away from fossil fuels’. Whilst this is very positive news, there are many challenges ahead and it is disappointing that it has taken 28 COPs to get us this far. And of course it is all about what countries do, not just what they say. Actions, not words. 

“Furthermore, let’s be clear, the IPCC definition of 1.5C is not about keeping us below that target; it is about getting there by the end of the century even if we sail through that notional target mid-century. I am greatly concerned that the current plans see us embarking on this route. When we know that crossing the 1.5 threshold will lead to increased risks of breaching tipping points, why are we not talking more about plans to actually keep us below that level from hereon? There is much to be done. 

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

Stephanie Baxter - COP28

Stephanie Baxter

Head of Policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology

Science Media Centre UK

We are pleased that COP28 has agreed a new deal to move away from fossil fuels.  But there still needs to be a clear timescale for phasing out fossil fuels completely.  Low lying islands will be amongst the first to suffer from rising sea levels, but climate change affects everyone.  We are already feeling the effects of rising temperatures, and the impact on lives, wellbeing and economies will only deteriorate if action is delayed or watered down.  We have the engineering and technological capabilities to deliver. We urge the international community to stick to previous commitments to limit global heating to 1.5°C.  All our futures depend on it.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
EN

Richard Betts - COP28 EN

Richard Betts

Chair in Climate Impacts, University of Exeter and Met Office Hadley Centre

Science Media Centre UK

The first global stocktake quotes lots of sound science highlighting the severity of the situation we are in, and this is to be applauded. However, it's worrying that the Dubai negotiations went ahead on the basis of a misunderstanding of how close we are now to reaching 1.5°C global warming. The text gives observed warming as "about 1.1°C", but this is already out of date - the actual current global warming level is about 1.3°C. While this is clearly not the main reason why the agreement falls short of what is needed, it may have contributed to a reduced sense of urgency.

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