UN climate summit calls on world to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28, is the first UN climate summit to call for a move away from fossil fuels – but some have argued it hasn’t gone far enough.

Many nations, including the US and the UK, called for a plan to phase out the use of fossil fuels. But instead, the final draft text instead called on countries to “transition away” from the use of oil, coal and gas, which account for around 80 per cent of global energy.

The final text calls for “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power”; tripling renewable energy capacity globally; accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies including renewables, nuclear, and low-carbon hydrogen production; and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

It also calls for “transitioning 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”.

The final deal was approved by all 198 countries.

While that’s still more forceful language than previous COP agreements, it stops short of calling for a phase out of fossil fuels entirely.

This was a move that had been expected until a draft published earlier this week introduced softer language, leading to doubt an agreement could be reached in time for the summit’s end.

“The world needed to find a new way. By following our North Star, we have found that path,” said COP28 President Dr. Sultan Al Jaber during his closing speech.

“We have worked very hard to secure a better future for our people and our planet. We should be proud of our historic achievement.”

The agreement angered numerous countries advocating for a phase out, including several low-lying island nations in the Pacific Ocean.

Cedric Schuster, Samoa’s Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, said earlier this week a draft agreement didn’t go far enough and risks undermining efforts to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“If we do not have strong mitigation outcomes at this COP then this will be the COP where 1.5C would have died,” Mr Schuster said.

“We will not sign our death certificates. We cannot sign on to text that does not have a strong commitment on phasing out fossil fuels.

“We have been asked throughout this process, what is at stake if these negotiations don’t return a strong outcome that keeps 1.5C alive?

“How can you not understand it is our very survival that is at stake?

“This is why in every room our negotiators have been pushing tirelessly for decisions that align with staying under 1.5C of warming.

“That is why if parties continue to oppose the phase-out of fossil fuels and fossil fuel subsidies they must stop and question their own commitment to this process.”

Ultimately, an amended draft text was published that still omitted reference to a “phaseout” of fossil fuels, and all countries became signatories.

The BBC reports a delegate from Samoa argued the deal was made without them in the room, while John Silk of the Marshall Islands – another island nation in the Pacific – called the agreement a “canoe with a weak and leaky hull, full of holes, yet we have to put it into the water because we have no other option”.

The world is 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was at the end of the 1800s, and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement saw countries pledge to keep this temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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