COP28, the climate agreement for the transition away from fossil fuels

Cop 28 Sostenibilità Plantbased

19 February 2024

With global average temperatures rising and extreme weather events becoming more frequent, the need for concrete action is more urgent than ever. COP28, the latest edition of which was held in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023, represents a unique opportunity for world leaders to respond to this crisis with meaningful commitments and long-term strategies. Below is a look at what emerged from the conference and what to expect in the near future.


The premises of COP28

COP28, held in Dubai, follows a long series of annual conferences that began in 1995 as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These conferences are at the heart of global efforts to coordinate the response to climate change. The need for such meetings arose from the growing understanding that climate change is a cross-cutting threat that requires collaborative global action.

Previous COPs have laid the groundwork for the latest instalment, exemplified by the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which introduced legally binding commitments to reduce emissions. Additionally, the 2015 Paris Agreement marked a major step forward in international efforts to limit the rise in global average temperature. Each conference helped to shape and refine global climate goals, leading to a deeper understanding and stronger commitment against climate change. These efforts culminated in COP28, which marked a turning point in the context of fossil fuels.


The historic COP28 agreement: a new path for fossil fuels

COP28 saw a fundamental shift in the fossil fuel narrative. The key term ‘phase-out’, which served as the starting point of the debates, was replaced with ‘transition’, indicating a more gradual and perhaps pragmatic shift away from the use of fossil fuels. Though subtle, this change carries substantial implications for the formulation and implementation of energy policies in the coming decades.

The goal of the transition is to drive the planet towards zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in line with climate science recommendations. To achieve this goal, global carbon emissions are expected to peak by 2025. However, the agreement recognises the specific needs of individual countries (such as China), allowing them some flexibility to peak emissions at a later date. This provision aims to balance global targets with national realities.

COP President Ahmed Al-Jaber emphasised that the agreement not only explicitly includes fossil fuels in its text, but also sets concrete targets, including tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. The agreement also calls for the development of low-carbon technologies, such as nuclear power and hydrogen, and supports carbon capture and storage.


International reactions and criticism

The decision to remove the term ‘phase-out’ elicited mixed reactions. While some welcomed this approach as more realistic and feasible, others expressed concerns that it would undermine the urgency and determination required to confront the climate crisis. In contrast, figures such as John Kerry and Ursula von der Leyen expressed cautious optimism about the agreement, recognising its strengths in setting concrete goals and promoting international cooperation. Conversely, figures such as Jean Su of the Center for Biological Diversity raised concerns about potential loopholes that could allow the ongoing use of fossil fuels.

The agreement, in essence, balances innovation and compromise. Specifically including fossil fuels in the text is a significant step forward, and the replacement of the term ‘phase-out’ with ‘transition’ represents a consensus among the different negotiating parties, some of whom are resisting an immediate phaseout of fossil fuels.


Challenges in implementing the COP28 goals

The agreement reached at COP28 strongly emphasises the need for international cooperation in the fight against climate change – a collective and globally coordinated effort to achieve the agreed targets.

A pivotal factor for the success of this agreement will be the effective implementation of its directives. Rigorous monitoring of progress by individual countries is therefore essential, ensuring that commitments are translated into tangible and measurable actions. This is especially important for developing countries and small islands, often the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, yet constrained by limited resources to address it.

Despite some imperfections and non-negligible challenges, the COP28 agreement marks an important milestone in the journey towards a more sustainable future. It establishes the groundwork for future discussions on climate policy and energy transition, serving as a catalyst for additional progress. COP28 has thus opened a new chapter in the history of international efforts to combat climate change. The true measure of its success will be determined by the ability and commitment of nations around the world to implement the actions necessary to realise the ambitious goals outlined in this historic agreement.