Countries strike historic Cop28 deal to avert climate catastrophe

Close to 200 parties at crucial talks agree to reduce the use of fossil fuels

'Historic' global stocktake approved at Cop28 in Dubai

'Historic' global stocktake approved at Cop28 in Dubai
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At the strike of 11.13am on Wednesday, the near-impossible took place.

A representative of virtually every country in the world sat in the same room and agreed to start cutting back on fossil fuels – the use of which, science says, threatens our very existence.

The deal was nearly three decades in the making, and it challenges nations that run on oil, gas and coal revenue to make the switch to cleaner energy.

Critics said it does not go far enough, but for a moment the world in 2023 – ridden by conflict and division – agreed on something.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President, brought the gavel down on what he said was a “historic” deal just minutes into a plenary session.

The agreement calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner … so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

The agreement, informally called the “UAE Consensus”, was adopted after about a fortnight of hard-fought talks and built on early success that gave the summit initial momentum, such as the launch of the loss and damage fund on November 30, and the galvanising of more than $80 billion in climate finance.

Cop28 delegates react to 'historic' climate deal

Cop28 delegates react to 'historic' climate deal

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed said the conference provided “significant results” and vowed to push ahead in search of a “more sustainable future for our planet”.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, also hailed the success of the conference.

“The conference has set new standards in climate action and solidified the UAE's position as a key player in building a sustainable future for the planet,” he said.

Dr Al Jaber said it was a “historic agreement” but was only as good as its “implementation”.

“We are what we do, not what we say,” he said. “We must take the steps necessary to turn this agreement into tangible action.”

The picture had looked different on Monday when a draft deal prompted a backlash from many parties, including the EU and vulnerable small island states, for weak language on fossil fuels, which are the primary driver of climate change.

Intense rounds of talks followed and pushed the summit a full day into overtime on Wednesday before a new draft was issued at about 7am local time.

Just after 11am the deal was done. After a year of meetings and two weeks of talks, it was all over in a few hours.

The agreement running to more than 20 pages is the main outcome from the summit. It seeks to keep the global temperature limit of 1.5°C within reach and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

US climate envoy John Kerry said he was in awe of the progress made at Cop28 considering the geopolitical tensions across the world.

“Everyone will find paragraphs where we might have said something differently. This is a cause for optimism and gratitude,” he said. “This document sends a very strong message to the world.”

Wopke Hoekstra, the EU's climate commissioner, said it was a day of “gratitude and of silent determination”.

“Humanity has finally done what is long overdue,” said Mr Hoekstra. “Thirty years we’ve spent to arrive at the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.”

Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy, also hailed a “historic decision”.

“There is an unmistakable signal that future is renewables and not fossil fuels,” said Ms Morgan.

But not everyone was completely happy and wondered whether it would keep temperatures from rising above the key 1.5ºC threshold. The lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States said the agreement has been gavelled before its delegates were in the room and it was not ambitious enough.

“We have made an incremental advancement over 'business as usual', when what we really need is an exponential step change in our actions,” said Anne Rasmussen, Samoa's chief negotiator, but also did not object to the deal.

John Silk, head of delegation from the Marshall Islands, said he came to build a “canoe” together for his country.

“Instead we have built a canoe with a weak and leaky hull, full of holes,” said Mr Silk. “Yet we have to put it into the water because we have no other option.”

Still, the deal will be seen a major victory for the Cop28 Presidency and the UAE which has spent the past year deeply engaged in talks to ensure the summit at Expo City Dubai was a success.

The Cop28 deal is formally called the Global Stocktake and assesses for the first time how the world is meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris deal that tries to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The UN has warned that the world is way off track and headed for warming of 3°C which would have major consequences for the health and livelihoods of billions of people.

The new text, arguably the biggest achievement since the Paris deal, also calls for a tripling of renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, scaling up efforts to cut coal use, and boosting technologies such as carbon capture and storage in certain areas that can be difficult to decarbonise.

Brent crude prices were down about 9.5 per cent as of 3.28pm on Wednesday compared with the settling price on November 30, when the climate summit started.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said the deal reaffirms the importance of limiting warning to 1.5ºC this decade.

Mr Guterres said the outcome recognised for the first time the need to transition away from fossil fuels after “many years in which the discussion of this issue was blocked”.

“To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase-out of fossil fuels in the Cop28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable whether they like it or not. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.”

Simon Stiell, UN climate change chief, thanked the UAE for hosting the summit and for steering the process through difficult hurdles.

But he warned that the world is still heading towards being 3°C hotter than it was before the industrial age.

“We must get on with the job of putting the Paris agreement to full work,” said Mr Stiell.

“While we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end."

The deal does not compel countries to end use of fossil fuels, however, and developing countries still need billions, if not trillions of dollars to help move to renewable sources of energy.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia were also reportedly resistant to stronger language on fossil fuel use. The US and China working together was seen as a crucial breakthrough. And it is also believed Saudi Arabia softened its opposition in the closing days, which proved critical in the finding of this middle ground found.

Summits are judged on what is agreed. Cop28 saw the early launch and capitalisation of the loss and damage fund. It was followed by a series of major announcements on food systems, methane, decarbonisation by oil and gas companies, and many more that sought to give impetus to the talks.

In the second half of the summit, the negotiations came to the fore. While there were some difficult moments, the experience of Dr Al Jaber and Cop28 director general Majid Al Suwaidi at previous Cops was undeniably helpful in guiding parties to a final agreement.

Cop28 was also the largest climate summit ever staged with more than 80,000 registered attendees.

Now that the deal is struck, countries are responsible for delivering through national policies and investments. They will meet again for Cop29 in Azerbaijan, another fossil fuel producer.

Oil, gas, and coal still account for about 80 per cent of the world's energy.

Updated: December 14, 2023, 10:24 AM