Climate Change

COP28 conclusion: End for fossil fuels, but they will still be used

Photo: COP28, Kiara Worth /


December 15, 2023






December 15, 2023





Representatives from almost every country reached an agreement on the final text of a new global deal at the COP28 conference, calling for a transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. The document was immediately declared historic as it signifies the definitive end of fossil fuel use. Climate activists highlight it as an important step, but they point out that the document contains numerous concerning formulations, while the softened terminology on energy transition allows countries to continue using fossil fuels as before.

Two weeks of negotiations in Dubai at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 resulted in the UAE Consensus, a global agreement calling for a gradual transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in a fair and regulated manner. The consensus aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and halt global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit until the end of the century.

For the first time since the inaugural conference in Berlin in 1995, fossil fuels took center stage in the final text of the global climate conference. Coal, oil, and gas were specifically mentioned as energy sources that need to be replaced with cleaner alternatives. Representatives from the fossil fuel industry and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) lobbied against such a shift, leading to the conference being extended for 36 hours to reach a consensus on this crucial issue.

For the first time at a COP gathering, fossil fuels are explicitly mentioned as energy sources that need to be replaced

The document was declared historic already at the conference due to indications of the definitive end of the use of coal, oil, and gas. It marks the beginning of the end of the era of fossil fuels, the United Nations said.

As climate activists point out, it is an important step in the right direction, but the final document contains numerous concerning formulations.

The softened terminology leaves room for further use of fossil fuels

Yet there is no mention of a fossil fuel phaseout. Instead, the phrase transition away is used.

In the final version of the UAE Consensus, terminological nuances were established. The agreement calls on UN member states to gradually shift away from fossil fuels, but it doesn’t obligate them to completely discard them.

The softened tone of the agreement allows many countries to tailor the energy transition according to their needs and pace

As emphasized by climate activists and other stakeholders, such a softened tone and terminology provide leeway for many countries, whose economies rely on fossil fuels, to interpret and adapt the energy transition to renewable sources according to their needs and at a pace that suits them. Without a sense of urgency.

This is not the historic agreement that the world needs

Greenpeace said it is not the historic deal that the world needs. It has many gaps and shortcomings, but the “most crucial and urgent” aspect, according to the organization, is to halt all plans for expanding fossil infrastructure, which is pushing the planet beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit.

Civil society groups, NGOs, and grassroots organisations march for climate justice and human rights during a Global Day of Action inside the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 venue in Dubai, UAE. / Photo: Greenpeace CEE

Greenpeace added that the participants didn’t earmark sufficient resources to achieve climate goals in a fair and rapid manner. The text does not mention the phaseout of fossil fuels. This is what science demands and what could enable a fair and sustainable transition away from fossil fuels in line with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, activists point out.

Commenting on the final outcome of COP28, Kaisa Kosonen from Greenpeace International (GPI) stated: “What the fossil fuel industry feared has happened – the end of the fossil fuels era and a call for the massive expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency in this decade.”

Kosonen: What the fossil fuel industry feared has happened

To achieve the goals of the agreement, wealthy countries will have to significantly increase financial support and compel polluters and the fossil fuel industry to start paying for the damage they have caused, Greenpeace underscored.

The organization noted that the COP28 deal also calls for tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling the rates of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. Additionally, it was highlighted during the negotiations in Dubai that the prices of renewable energy are decreasing rapidly.

The Paris Agreement almost fell apart due to a translation error – the devil is in the details

During the finalization of the Paris Agreement, there was also a certain terminological tension reflected through nuances of the English language, albeit less obvious than the current one.

In the translation from French to English, due to an alleged technical error, shall almost turned into should. It applied to the part of the agreement that stated that developed countries would take the lead in emissions reduction.

Due to the mistake in translation, the G77 group of developing countries said it is a red line of the agreement and that the obligation and intent of developed countries to lead the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions must be precisely stated.

The correction has been made, but linguistic nuances nearly prevented striking the agreement in Paris, still the overarching platform for the fight against climate change.

The difference in detail and terminology, where emissions reduction in developed countries is not a recommendation but a committed obligation, remains crucial.

At COP28, a new term was adopted – transition away, which will shape climate and energy policies in the coming years.

In Dubai, new terminology has been adopted that will shape climate and energy policies in the coming years. After two weeks of negotiations, lobbying, and pressure, one term prevailed over the other: transition away from fossil fuels, while the decision on a phaseout or phasedown is postponed for another global summit.

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