Landmark COP28 deal to 'transition away' from fossil fuels adopted

By Isaac M December 13, 2023

Governments have agreed for the first time ever to “transition away” from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change, in an “historic” agreement from the COP28 climate summit.

The UN’s climate body, UNFCCC, published the draft text of the deal early on Wednesday morning after negotiations had run well into the small hours in Dubai.

Host nation the United Arab Emirates then quickly rushed it through a closing plenary session, facing no objections.

“Let us finish what we have started,” said COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, as the room erupted in applause.

“We have language on fossil fuels in our final agreement for the first time ever.” He called it “historic”.

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The deal is not legally-binding, but calls on all countries to move away from the use of fossil fuels, for the first time in almost 30 years of COP climate summits.

It does not satisfy the small island states like Samoa and the Marshall Islands who led an earlier push to “phase out” all fossil fuels, which would have been stronger than the “transition away” that was finally agreed.

It also contained loopholes that upset critics, such as allowing a role for “transitional fuels” like gas.

But it still is a big leap forward from anything previously agreed at a COP climate summit.

Read more:
Key points from COP28 resolution
Analysis: This agreement was a big step forward – but there were caveats

Sky News’ climate reporter Victoria Seabrook was inside the closing session of COP28 and said there were “emotional” scenes.

“There were hugs, there were tears. I saw the US climate envoy John Kerry hugging the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock.

“There was a round of applause for the Marshall Islands who were really one of the leading voices calling for this transition away from fossil fuels.”

She added: “Of course, this document does not dictate our entire energy future, but it’s a turning point.

“It’s a very clear signal to countries, to markets, to financiers, about the direction we are going in.”

The UN’s climate chief Simon Stiell has said the COP28 deal is the “beginning of the end” for fossil fuels, adding there have been some “genuine strides forward” at the summit. However, he warned the initiatives are “not a finish line”.

‘The end is coming for dirty energy’

Meanwhile, Norway’s minister for climate and the environment, Espen Barth Eide, said: “It is the first time that the world unites around such a clear text on the need to transition away from fossil fuels.

“It has been the elephant in the room. At last we address it head on.”

Melanie Robinson, global climate programme director at the World Resources Institute, also welcomed the text saying: “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.”

Joab Okanda, senior climate adviser for Christian Aid, said: “We may not have driven the nail into the coffin here at COP28, but the end is coming for dirty energy.”

However, he said there is a “gaping hole” in the money needed to actually fund the transition from dirty to clean energy in developing countries, meaning the shift will be slower than needed.

The deal specifically 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 document recognises “the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in line with 1.5C pathways” and calls upon nations to take notice.

Climate deal signals fossil fuels era is coming to an end – but not fast enough

Tom Clarke

Science and technology editor


The deal passed almost immediately. It is quite remarkable.

I have been to a lot of these summits and I have never seen one end as quickly and as painlessly as that.

And it did, quickly. It is a remarkable agreement.

For the 30 years this climate summit process has been going on there has been no formal recognition of the fact if we are going to avoid the most dangerous climate change we have to phase out our use of fossil fuels.

That specific language – phasing them out – didn’t quite make it.

It was probably never going to in a region or in a text dominated by fossil fuels – but it did pass, with some slight watering down.

But the headline agreement was how we are going to continue efforts globally to get 1.5C of global warming – hopefully no more than that – by the middle of this century.

What was agreed today was a big step forward. It mentioned fossils fuels. It clearly said they have got to go if we are going to get there.

But there were big caveats – “cavernous loopholes” described by some NGOs, that really allow quite a lot of wriggle room.

For example, they describe the importance of transition fuels, and what does that mean? Well, that’s natural gas – a little offering there for the rich and gas-rich countries to continue their work.

As things currently stand this agreement only takes us about 30% of the way to getting to avoiding 1.5C of global warming, according to the independent International Energy Agency.

So we are definitely not there yet, but it’s a big step forward.

Historic? Yes, the deal mentions fossil fuels.

But possibly historic for the wrong reasons: this was a missed opportunity to phase them out fast enough to avoid that dangerous global warming this process is all about.

Calls for an end to fossil fuels drown out objections

Saudi Arabia had fought hardest against a fossil fuel phase out, afraid for the future of its oil-based economy.

But developing nations like India and Bolivia were also afraid about making a commitment that could compromise their development, without the finance to make the leap to clean energy.

Eventually the calls from the likes of the small islands, the High Ambition Coalition of developed and vulnerable nations, the UK and the EU for an end to fossil fuels were so noisy overnight that they almost drowned out objections.

Licypriya Kangujam, an Indigenous climate activist from India, holds a banner during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
A climate activist from India, holds a banner during COP28

The text also makes a nod to “differentiated” responsibility for countries with different means.

The actions in the deal include:

• Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030

• Rapidly phasing down unabated coal and limiting the permitting of new and unabated coal power generation

• Accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emissions energy systems, utilising zero and low carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century

• Transitioning away from fossil fuels in our energy systems, beginning in this decade, in a just, orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science

• Accelerating zero and low emissions technologies, including renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies, such as carbon capture and utilisation and storage particularly in hard to abate sectors, and low carbon hydrogen production, so as to enhance efforts towards substitution of unabated fossil fuels in energy systems

• Accelerating and substantially reducing non-CO2 emissions, including, in particular, methane emissions globally by 2030;

• Accelerating emissions reductions from road transport through a range of pathways, including development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero emission vehicles

• Phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible.

Then, the United Arab Emirates-led presidency, fronted by Sultan al Jaber presented delegates from nearly 200 nations a new central document – called the global stocktake – just after sunrise in Dubai.

Some of the language in previous versions of the draft that most upset nations calling for dramatic action to address climate change was altered.

Actions that had previously been presented as an optional “could” changed to a bit more direct “calls on parties to”.

After a quick debrief, Union of Concerned Scientists climate and energy policy director Rachel Cleetus said it was “definitely an improvement” over earlier versions that environmental advocacy groups like hers had massively criticised.

The aim of the global stocktake is to help nations align their national climate plans with the Paris Agreement.


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