Concluding the COP28 climate change conference, member states of the United Nations called for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner” with the aim to achieve net zero by 2050. In a heated debate in Dubai that extended to overtime, the compromise was to avoid using either the term phaseout or phasedown, but the joint declaration also failed to include a call for a complete gradual rejection of coal, oil and gas.
Almost 200 nations agreed to accelerate climate action in the energy sector “in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science,” according to the draft released just before the vote at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai. But the joint statement, called UAE Consensus, lacks a commitment to completely abandon the use of fossil fuels.
Instead, UN member states voted to call for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.” Notably, they avoided using either the term phaseout or phasedown. Roughly, they respectively mean gradual and complete exit, and gradual and substantial reduction.
It should be noted that oil prices tumbled to the lowest levels in half a year in the runup to the deal. The two-week event in Dubai is also known as the 28th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Renewables, energy efficency push included in final document
Mirroring an earlier declaration accepted by most of the delegates, COP28 called for tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. The UAE Consensus includes an endorsement of efforts to accelerate the phasedown of unabated coal power – coal plants that don’t capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions.
In the final deal, the delegates endorsed carbon capture, “transitional fuels” and nuclear energy
Logically, carbon capture, utilization and storage – CCUS technologies were also promoted in the deal, alongside the solutions to cut emissions of other greenhouse gases, particularly methane. The CCS acronym is in common use as well, without the utilization segment.
COP28 highlighted the significance of low-carbon fuels, and low-carbon hydrogen in particular, and nuclear energy. It added that “transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security.” Only fossil gas is usually referred to as a transitional fuel.
Some environmentalists and renewable energy investors are accusing countries that rely on fossil fuels and the companies in the sector of lobbying for carbon capture and fossil gas to protect their operations. Separate controversies have revolved around nuclear energy for decades.
Al Jaber: Plan is balanced
“For the first time, there is a recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels – after many years in which the discussion of this issue was blocked,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.
The adopted wording was reportedly coined by small island nations, which complained of numerous gaps in drafts. One of the main points of criticism was the lack of detail on how poorer, heavily indebted countries will finance divestment from fossil fuels and adapt to global warming.
“Together, we have confronted realities and we have set the world in the right direction. We have given it a robust action plan to keep 1.5 within reach. It is a plan that is led by the science. It is a balanced plan, that tackles emissions, bridges the gap on adaptation, reimagines global finance, and delivers on loss and damage. It is built on common ground. It is strengthened by inclusivity. And it is reinforced by collaboration,” COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber said.
He is the United Arab Emirates’ minister of industry and advanced technology, managing director and group chief executive officer of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) and the chairman of Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co. – Masdar.