The year 2023 called for bold climate action with record heat, floods, fires and droughts ravaging the planet. But after tense talks at the Dubai COP28 summit, the deal fell short for many as a turning point, with a lack of fossil fuel phase-out plans.
Leaders from nearly 200 nations gathered this November to negotiate a path forward on climate change mitigation, as catastrophic climate impacts wracked the world in what will likely be the hottest year ever recorded. Despite two weeks of contentious talks, the timid deal acknowledges the role of fossil fuels in global warming for the first time but lacks concrete plans to wind down oil, gas and coal, which dismayed activists seeking faster action.
While hailed as an “important milestone”, the agreement to simply “transition away” from fossil fuels does the bare minimum, according to former Vice President Al Gore and others, who stressed this is long overdue after 30 years of climate meetings.
With no mandate to eliminate fossil fuels and no financial plans to fund cleaner energy transitions, hope now lies in whether bold follow-up actions can rapidly materialize to avoid breaching the 1.5C warming limit.
Doubts prevail on subsequent progress as the non-binding deal omits firm fossil phase-out roadmaps. Despite clean-tech advances and climate awareness growth, optimism dims without steep emissions cuts enabled by swiftly axing fossil fuel use per the science.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insists the fossil fuel era must end immediately for any chance to curb warming to 1.5C. With involuntary phase-outs looming, voluntary transitions may come too little too late.
Hosts Questioned Amid Calls To End Fossil Fuel Era
The suitability of an oil-rich Gulf nation hosting talks on eliminating oil, gas and coal raised eyebrows from the outset. UAE climate summit president Sultan Al-Jaber also heads the state oil firm ADNOC, and recently denied the need to phase out fossil fuels to restrain warming.
Trust in the oil industry’s emission cut pledges has evaporated after most backtracked on energy transition plans this past year amid an outcry over deception. Fossil exploration and project approvals are rising as firms talk green but walk black, making a mockery of the 1.5C carbon limit.
As marathon talks dragged on, a robust fossil fuel exit looked doubtful under the fossil fuel leadership of the UAE and Al-Jaber. The final text showed key climate-vulnerable developing nations and activists’ fears regarding credible plans to retire fossil fuels were well founded.
While “phase out” and “transition away” sound akin, the semantics are vital. Phasing out fossil fuels means eliminating their energy system use, while transitioning away implies cutting back but persisting. Climate scientists and activists alike have vented frustration over the dilution of phase-out calls.
Some experts even laud efforts to debate fossil fuel retirements as initial progress. The decision to prominently feature transitioning away from fossil fuels sends an unprecedented signal. But with non-enforceable pledges, Pressure rises on wealthy nations to lead the exodus.