COP28: World nears historic deal on fossil fuel transition

After intense negotiations, nations are close to a landmark deal with members calling for a "deep, rapid, and sustained" reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

The COP28 summit is being held in the UAE, a major oil and gas producer (photo: DW)
The COP28 summit is being held in the UAE, a major oil and gas producer (photo: DW)
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After nearly two weeks of hectic negotiations, countries were on the verge of reaching a historic deal on a 'transition away from fossil fuels' while emerging economies like India and China strongly resisted the targeting of coal.

This is, however, a step back from the earlier proposal of a 'phase-out of fossil fuels' that drew sharp criticism from many countries in the Global South and oil-reliant economies like Saudi Arabia.

A draft cover decision of the Dubai climate talks released early in the morning called for a "deep, rapid and sustained" reduction in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 degree-Celsius pathways.

It says countries should do this in a "nationally determined" manner (their way), taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances.

The draft deal will be brought up for a final vote sometime on Wednesday if enough countries express satisfaction.

It lays an eight-point plan to achieve this, including a "transition away from fossil fuels" in energy systems in a "just, orderly and equitable manner", accelerating action in this decade, to achieve net zero (balance between greenhouse gases emitted and removed from the atmosphere) by 2050.

The draft deal urges countries to accelerate efforts toward the phase-down of unabated coal power, a marginal step up from the 2021 Glasgow deal.

However, unlike the previous draft, it lacks references to "limiting the permitting of new and unabated coal power generation".

This absence suggests a strong pushback from heavily coal-dependent countries such as India and China.

However, there is no mention of oil and gas in the 21-page document.

Around 40 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions stem from coal, while oil and gas contribute to the remaining percentage.

The draft deal calls for tripling global renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency rates by 2030 which, according to the International Energy Agency, is critical to avoid breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold.

The document emphasises scaling up technologies, including underperforming ones, to capture CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and significantly reduce non-CO2 emissions, particularly methane.

It calls for phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty and just transitions, but the reference to "wasteful consumption" has been removed.

There are references to equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, something developing countries have been fighting for.

These principles acknowledge that countries' efforts to combat climate change should be considered in light of their contributions to total emissions.

They also stress that wealthier nations should bear primary responsibilities due to their substantial historical emissions.

Rich countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union, pushed hard for an agreement on "phase-out of all fossil fuels", the root cause of the climate crisis.

The European Union had said it would reject any deal that did not include a fossil fuel phase-out.

But many countries in the Global South resisted it, saying it should come with public finance and technological support to help them adapt to climate impacts and leapfrog to renewables fairly and equitably.


The developing countries, including India, pushed rich nations to vacate carbon space by achieving negative carbon emissions (removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than emitted), not merely reaching net zero by 2050, a negotiator from the Global South said.

Observers emphasise that countries, based on this deal, will announce their new five-year action plan next year to limit global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Hence, securing an ambitious agreement is crucial.

Eight years ago in Paris, nations agreed to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, and ideally no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Since then, 1.5 degrees Celsius has been considered the guardrail to avoid worsening of climate impacts.

Another negotiator from the Global South said that "ambition cannot be raised without substantial financial support, which should be in trillions".

Rachel Cleetus from the Union of Concerned Scientists said that while the new climate deal recognises the need to shift from fossil fuels, it doesn't do enough to help poorer countries switch to clean energy.

She said richer countries, like the US, should lead by example and provide more money to help other countries do the same.

Melanie Robinson, Global Climate Programme Director from the World Resources Institute, said: “This text makes a clear call for the world to transition away from fossil fuels and accelerate action this decade. This would dramatically move the needle in the fight against climate change and overcome immense pressure from oil and gas interests.” 

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Published: 13 Dec 2023, 12:39 PM
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