Global deal at COP28 as Dubai keeps Paris alive - Hindustan Times
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Global deal at COP28 as Dubai keeps Paris alive

ByJayashree Nandi, Dubai
Dec 14, 2023 04:43 AM IST

Fossil fuels have been a topic of taboo for years in climate negotiations the very fact that there is a consensus is being seen as a victory.

History was made in Dubai on Wednesday when 196 countries agreed to transition away from fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, although experts said it doesn’t do enough on almost all fronts -- climate targets, funding, phasing out fossil fuels, and holding historical polluters accountable.

Welcoming the agreement, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav congratulated the UAE’s COP Presidency “for its fairness, transparency and free exchange of thought”. (AP)
Welcoming the agreement, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav congratulated the UAE’s COP Presidency “for its fairness, transparency and free exchange of thought”. (AP)

Still, fossil fuels have been a topic of taboo for years in climate negotiations, and while the text still doesn’t mention the words “oil” and “gas”, the very fact that there is a consensus is being seen as a victory in some quarters.

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“The world needed to find a new way. By following our North Star, we have found that path. We have delivered a comprehensive response to the Global Stocktake and all the other mandates. 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,” said COP28 President, Sultan Al Jaber who gavelled the decision on the global stocktake (GST) first thing as soon as the plenary began.

His reference is to one of the two flagship goals of the Paris accord (2015) -- to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The adoption of a very carefully calibrated decision text titled the UAE Consensus seemed impossible even on Tuesday, and some experts were already beginning to term COP28 a complete failure.

Al Jaber described the outcome as “a balanced plan, that tackles emissions, bridges the gap on adaptation, reimagines global finance, and delivers on loss and damage” and one “ built on common ground.”

Welcoming the agreement, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav congratulated the UAE’s COP Presidency “for its fairness, transparency and free exchange of thought”. “The way ahead must be based on equity and climate justice,” Yadav said.

The adoption of the decision saw loud applause with most parties appearing to be agreeable to the decision except the group of small islands and Bolivia for different reasons, and they sought their reservations to be recorded in the proceedings. But some experts said the text remained weak on differentiation, did not ensure countries with historical responsibility take the lead in moving away from fossil fuels and doesn’t address finance for transition adequately.

“Science tells us that limiting global heating to 1.5°C will be impossible without the phase out of fossil fuels. This was also recognized by a growing & diverse coalition of countries at COP28. The era of fossil fuels must end – and it must end with justice & equity,” Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, said.

How does the GST seek to meet Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree C goal?

The GST does this in eight ways, calling on parties to contribute to each in a “nationally determined manner”. One, tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

Dubai COP28: Loss and Damage a milestone, opportunity missed on fossil fuels

Two, accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power.

Three, accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emission energy systems, utilizing zero- and low-carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century.

Four, 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.

Five, accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production.

Six, accelerating and substantially reducing non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions by 2030.

Seven , accelerating the reduction of emissions from road transport on a range of pathways, including through development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles.

And eight, phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty. This is the key section in the GST. Experts have pointed out that point 29 of the text recognizes that transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security. This may leave room for several countries to continue using oil, observers said.

One of COP28 Presidency’s advisors said the text carefully balances aspirations with science, and recognizes the deadline for change. Describing it as “finely calibrated” and a “step up” she added that “it does a lot more on the urgency in this decade”. And she claimed that it does have “specificity around fossil fuels and energy transition.”

COP28: Draft adaptation text lists 7 targets, expresses concern over finance gap

“Negotiations around fossil fuels have been very hard because we wanted it to reflect the realities of the political economy and strike a balance,” she said. “This is not a perfect text if you are a small island nor is it a perfect text for an oil and gas producer.”

The text also expressed concern “that the carbon budget consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal is now small and being rapidly depleted”.

“The timeline of carbon budget use (1850-2019) has been removed possible to address concerns over who is /is not a historical emitter. But, pre-2020 failure language remains for developed countries,” CSE Climate Change said on X, formerly Twitter.

What countries say

EU and Germany were particularly happy with the outcome. “When we are long gone, our children and their children will be left to deal with all that we left behind. This is a day of solemn satisfaction. Humanity has done what has been long overdue,” said Wopke Hoekstra, EU’s climate chief. “The world just adopted a historic decision at #COP28 to set in motion an irreversible, accelerated transition away from fossil fuels. With that, we have achieved what we set out to do: keep 1.5 within reach and mark the beginning of the end of fossil fuels,” he also wrote on X. The US, represented by John Kerry said it was a significant deal and not having any language on peaking emissions by 2025 was a compromise among parties in Dubai. The US and China both intend to update their long term strategies, he added, inviting others to do so. Saudi Arabia which was most opposed to any language on phasing out of fossil fuels also seemed agreeable to the compromise. “We reiterate the importance of abiding by the principle of CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities). We have to respond to emissions regardless of source of emissions. Arab group reiterates finance and tech transfer will be critical as well as capacity building,” the country’s representative said.

Read Here: In a first, delegates at UN climate talks agree to transition away from fossil fuels

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who attended the COP28 negotiations, said, “The text, it provides alternatives. But I think these texts do not affect our exports, do not affect our ability to sell,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

But the small islands were very unhappy with the outcome. “We are a little confused about what just happened. It seems that you gavelled the decisions, and the small island developing states were not in the room,” said Anne Rasmussen, the AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) lead negotiator said in the plenary.

“We were working hard to coordinate the 39 small island developing states that are disproportionately affected by climate change, and so were delayed in coming here. So, we will deliver the statement that we were going to deliver before this text was adopted without us. AOSIS at the beginning of this COP had one objective, to ensure that 1.5 is safeguarded in a meaningful way. Our leaders and Ministers have been clear. We cannot afford to return to our islands with the message that this process has failed us. This first GST is of particular significance. It is the only GST that matters for ensuring that we can still limit global warming to 1.5C,” she added.

The urgency of phasing out fossil fuels was more relevant to small islands as they face inundation and disappearance of entire islands in many regions.

Bolivia’s negotiator said what had happened is essentially “carbon colonialism.”

Editorial: A big deal in Dubai

“Since 2015 when we adopted Paris Agreement..these 8 years saw developed countries work tirelessly to erode their commitments and transfer their responsibilities on developing countries. We are seeing a worse and more inequitable world. We cannot have such outcomes without differentiation and concrete financing for developing countries. Our north star is keeping 1.5 degree goal with equity. Developed countries cannot postpone their fossil fuels commitments. Countries that are expanding oil and gas are championing the cause of phasing out fossil fuels,” Bolivia’s lead negotiator, Diego Pacheco said in the plenary.

What experts say

Many experts are of the opinion that the GST is weak.

“This COP has largely disappointed on all fronts. It hasn’t sufficiently raised climate ambition, held historical polluters accountable, or established effective mechanisms to finance climate resilience and a just low-carbon transition for the Global South. While the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage fund on the first day marked a noteworthy success, subsequent developments revealed a discordant trajectory. The Global Stocktake’s final text lacked the candid acknowledgement of problems and the teeth required to fight them. The exclusive focus on rapidly phasing down unabated coal, as opposed to all fossil fuels, heightens the risk of exacerbating the North-South global divide,” said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

“The GST text pushes the mitigation agenda, especially on coal, but still leaves room for development. Methane has now become an issue that we will have to pay more attention to,” said Manjeev Puri, former ambassador and negotiator.

But some acknowledged that it is the first time a COP text speaks of a transition away from fossil fuels.

“The Dubai deal is a positive with gaps. It is the first time that there is recognition of transitioning away from fossil fuels in a COP text-- essentially meaning slashing not just coal, but also oil and gas. However, coming alongside an absolute recognition of a warming world, and the need to take rapid action within this decade, the outcome text makes real concessions for gas and oil. The language doesn’t give clarity on whether actual reductions in production and consumption will happen, or with increasing demand, countries will merely ‘transition’ their energy mix,” Aarti Khosla, director of Carbon Copy said.

“No, COP28 will not enable us to hold the 1.5°C limit, but yes, the result is a pivotal land-mark. It makes clear to finance, business and societies that we are now finally - 8 years behind Paris schedule - at the beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel driven world economy,” Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said on X.

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