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COP28 agreement is imperfect — but still a big deal

Sultan Al Jaber, president of COP28, during the closing session of the conference. Picture: Christopher Pike/COP28.
Sultan Al Jaber, president of COP28, during the closing session of the conference. Picture: Christopher Pike/COP28.

The final COP28 agreement — which was overseen by Sultan Al Jaber, the head of an oil company — defied earlier expectations that it would be a total flop.

While they didn’t call for a phase out of coal, oil and gas, world leaders agreed for the first time ever that we must “transition away from fossil fuels”.

At the same time, most countries committed to tripling renewable energy installations and doubling energy efficiency improvements by 2030, while also building more sustainable food systems.

“The mention of fossil fuels in the COP28 text marks a milestone for a COP agreement, which has never been so explicit in naming the primary cause of the climate crisis,” said Mindy Lubber, CEO of the investor-focused non-profit Ceres.

COP28 featured “other signs of progress to celebrate”, Lubbe said, citing the new loss and damage fund for developing countries hit by climate disasters they didn’t cause, as well as the commitment by major oil companies to slash methane emissions. 

Climate think tank E3G said while the non-binding agreement had its shortcomings — including a lack of funding for adaptation — “the ultimate direction of travel is clear: the fossil fuel era is ending.”

South Africa’s minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment, Barbara Creecy, said: “For the first time we have language which 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.”

Yes, but: Risk-management group DNV said despite some COP28 wins, it still sees global warming reaching a catastrophic 2.2°C above the pre-industrial revolution era in the decades ahead.

“For COP28 to achieve its overarching goal, immediate and drastic action is required to phase down fossils and further accelerate renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and energy efficiency,” DNV director Sverre Alvik said in a note.

“Although everyone needs to move faster, not everyone is able to follow the same trajectory, and developed countries must reach net-zero emissions way before 2050.”

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