CoP28: Loopholes and distractions, but still acceptance that a shift away from fossil fuels is inevitable

The UN CoP28 climate summit concluded in Dubai on 13 December, marking a pivotal moment as countries came together in a collective commitment to tackle global climate challenges.

Most notably, the consensus finally achieved in this CoP represents a groundbreaking acknowledgment of the imperative to shift away from fossil fuels, the primary driver of climate change.

However, the final text fell short of what campaigners and high-ambition countries were calling for.

The CoP28 venue in Dubai (c) EIA

The text calls on countries to ‘’[transition] away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.’’

This underscores a crucial political signal, placing strong emphasis on immediate action within the current decade and laying a foundational framework for positive developments.

EIA Climate Campaigner Kim O’Dowd said: ‘’The way to safeguard our climate system is no secret – in addition to addressing greenhouse gases, countries must unite to stop new fossil fuel production, to phase out existing operations and ensure a just transition while fast-tracking the adoption of renewable energy and economic diversification away from fossil fuels.

“While we don’t find all these elements in the final CoP outcome, it does signify a global consensus to ending reliance on fossil fuels.

“While the final text has dropped explicit reference to a fossil fuel phase-out, which was included in previous text versions, the message remains that the transition away from fossil fuels is unavoidable.”

This text is more ambitious than the previous version proposed on 11 December, which was followed by a strong reaction from NGOs, frontline communities – particularly Small Island States and indigenous communities – and governments such as the European Union, the UK and the United States, yet it still contains numerous loopholes and ‘dangerous distractions’, including a reliance on carbon capture and storage which is not tested at scale and allows fossil fuel companies to continue to emit.

To ensure a fast, fair and forever transition away from fossil fuels, additional efforts are needed. The focus should be particularly on finance and accountability, with developing nations requiring substantial support to transition their economies away from fossil fuels without leaving anyone behind. Developed countries, in turn, must translate their commitments into tangible actions and financing.

Methane flaring

The final outcome also highlights the importance of substantial reductions this decade in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, a primary focus of EIA’s climate campaign.

O’Dowd added: ‘’The reduction of global methane emissions is critical to keeping global heating within 1.5°C and preventing climate tipping points from irreversibly changing the planet’s climate system. Countries need to make it a key priority, by developing clear mitigation targets and action plans, monitoring their emissions, but also for developed countries to support developing countries through a dedicated financial mechanism.’’

To learn more on how the Global Methane Pledge can be strengthened to deliver on its objectives, read our latest report Closing the Gap- Strengthening the Global Methane Pledge with a blueprint for effective governance.

Fluorinated greenhouse gases, including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used widely in refrigeration and air-conditioning, also fall into this category.

Cannisters of HFC refrigerant (c) EIA

EIA Climate Campaigner Sophie Geoghegan said: “It is a shame that explicit reference to HFCs was dropped from the final text; however, we welcome the recognition that tackling non-CO2 gases is imperative to bending the climate curve and tackling the climate crisis.”

Earlier in the week, the Loss and Damage Fund was agreed and operationalised and has been followed by financial contributions of more than $700 million – a drop in the ocean of the estimated $400 billion required, but a welcome start.

The Global Cooling Pledge was launched on 5 December, with 66 countries now committing to reduce cooling-related emissions across all sectors by at least 68 per cent from 2022 levels by 2050, with specific measures to address refrigerants with high global warming potential, including ratifying the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol by 2024 and supporting earlier action to reduce HFC emissions through the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.

Geoghegan  added: “Cooling is often overlooked at CoPs, despite the fact that sustainable cooling is a key tool for mitigation and adaptation. The Global Cooling Pledge brings the issue to the fore and EIA encourages all countries to sign on to it and reduce emissions from cooling while expanding access to sustainable cooling.”

* For more information on EIA’s work at CoP28, take a look at our dedicated page.