We know that man-made fossil fuels are causing the world’s climate crisis. Climate denial really has no leg to stand on. But when it comes to how we should deal with it… there’s less agreement.
It took the world 21 years of hard negotiating to come up with an agreement to try and fix this crisis. That’s how the Paris Agreement was developed, at a climate conference called the Conference of Parties (COP).
That was at COP21 — the 21st annual conference. Now, seven years later, at COP28, the annual UN climate summit, almost 200 countries have agreed on targets. We all agree on what needs to be done — but there’s no tangible plan.
A weird climate conference
The final text of the global agreement was penned after two weeks of rocky negotiations in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The UAE was a strange choice for hosting a climate summit, considering it’s a leading producer and exporter of fossil fuels. But it gets even weirder. The summit’s president was also the person in charge of the country’s main fossil fuel company, ADNOC. Despite this rather inauspicious setup, officials did their best to produce a deal that would serve as a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Whether or not this was actually accomplished, however, is debatable.
The text “calls on” all countries to “transition away” from fossil fuels in energy systems in a “just and orderly manner” in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This “just and orderly manner” was applauded by big oil companies as a “pragmatic” way of doing things.
The deal also called on countries to triple renewable energy capacity and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by the end of the decade. However, there’s no mechanism in place to enforce these calls.
Reactions to the conference’s results were mixed.
While the COP’s presidency described the agreement as a “robust action plan” to avoid the temperature exceeding 1.5 °C, the target of the Paris Agreement, countries from the Global South disagreed. They argued the text fell short of what’s needed to respond to the climate crisis in terms of ambition and financial support to developing countries.
Anne Rasmussen, the lead negotiator from The Alliance of Small Island States, representing 39 countries, said the COP process failed them and that the text included a “litany of loopholes.” While countries made an “incremental advancement,” she said that what’s actually needed is an “exponential advancement” in climate action.
Many countries, including the US and the European Union, had pushed for stronger language in the text from the start of the talks, suggesting “phasing out” fossil fuels instead of “calling on” countries to act. However, pressure from oil-producing countries grouped in the OPEP oil producers’ association made this a very difficult endeavor.
“Including the need to transition away from fossil fuels in energy is a welcome step after nearly three decades of COPs avoiding naming the key problem,” David McKay, a researcher at the University of Exeter, said in a news release. “However, the necessary fossil fuel phase-out across the board is left out, and there isn’t a binding plan.”
Not all terrible
Still, there was one notable win that the summit delivered, and on its first day — the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, a global financial package to provide assistance to the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis. However, developed countries only pledged US$800 million to the fund, which is 0.2% of what’s actually needed.
The global average temperature has already exceeded 1.2 °C, so the window of opportunity to deliver on 1.5 °C and avoid even more severe consequences is closing fast. Delivering on the agreement and saying farewell to fossil fuels will be critical for this. But it remains to be seen if countries will really implement it.
Diego Casaes, the campaign director of Avaaz, an NGO, questioned the text for having many loopholes, such as allowing countries to keep using transition fuels (natural gas). “It could allow for another decade or two of fossil fuel investments, giving oil executives everything they need to keep going,” Casaes said in a news release.
In the face of the ongoing climate crisis, COP28 draws to a close. Some are happier than others, but this is the agreement we have landed on. Let’s hope for sake of our shared climate future, that leaders and executives answer the call and follow through.
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