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COP28’s Global Stocktake Agreement: The good, the bad, and the ugly

COP28’s Global Stocktake Agreement: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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Politics Environment The Truth

Thursday 14 December 202311:59 am


The United Nations’ annual Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai ended just as it started: with a standing ovation. After hard-fought negotiations late into the night and pushback from petrostates, President Sultan Al-Jaber announced on Wednesday that the 'UAE Consensus' has been reached. For the first time in the three-decade history of climate summits, the final agreement addressed fossil fuels.

The agreement, the first global stocktake assessing countries’ progress since the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, paves the path for future climate action and is viewed by many as the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era.

“We are finally naming the elephant in the room. The genie is never going back into the bottle,” Director of Power Shift Africa Mohamed Adow said in a statement.

After hard-fought negotiations late into the night and pushback from petrostates, COP28 Chief Al-Jaber announced that the UAE Consensus has been reached. For the first time in the three-decade history of climate summits, the final agreement addressed fossil fuels

The stocktake calls on signatory parties to take measures of “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

The agreement also calls for “tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030”, another point hailed as a COP28 achievement.

Coming at the end of the hottest year on record, the stocktake recognizes the science that indicates global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut 43% by 2030, compared to 2019 levels, to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Al-Jaber described the agreement as a "historic package" of measures which offered a "robust plan" to keep the target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels within reach.

As the central outcome of COP28, the global stocktake contains every element that was under negotiation throughout the two weeks. Noting that countries are off track when it comes to meeting their Paris Agreement goals, it can now be used by countries to develop stronger climate action plans through national policies and investments, due by 2025.

The stocktake calls on signatory parties to take measures of “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050”

‘Loopholes’

While officials, climate activists, and scientists regard the agreement as an achievement, many pointed out its major shortcomings.

Critics say that the language used is weaker than initial options to “phase out” or “phase down” fossil fuels that had appeared in a previous draft.

Another major issue is adding the word “inefficient” in the call to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Governments’ subsidies for fossil fuels hit a record $7 trillion in 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

While the agreement calls on accelerating and substantially reducing methane emissions by 2030, it does not set specific targets as it did in an earlier version.

The language on coal was also criticized as weak, calling for accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of “unabated” coal power.

“The resolution is marred by loopholes that offer the fossil fuel industry numerous escape routes, relying on unproven, unsafe technologies,” said Harjeet Singh, Head of Global Political Strategy for Climate Action Network International (CAN-I) in a statement.

Carbon capture and storage, as well as carbon markets, are among the escape routes feared to be taken by fossil fuel companies to continue drilling.

The agreement also does not tie the 1.5 science to calls for action. It removed the "invitation" in an earlier draft for climate scientists to produce a special report on "progress since the first global stocktake". It now invites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific arm of the UNFCCC, to "align" and "provide relevant and timely information".

Speaking after Al-Jaber gaveled the decision that the agreement had passed, Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) Chair and Samoa delegate Anne Rasmussen, said that they were "a little confused" by the approval of the deal before the group of 39 island nations, who are particularly vulnerable to climate change, could join the room.

Pointing out the lack of commitment or invitation to peak carbon emissions by 2025, Rasmussen also referred to some of the articles as 'backward rather than forward' and a 'litany of loopholes'. After listing objections to the agreement, the room rose to its feet at the COP28 closing panel’s second standing ovation.

While officials, climate activists, and scientists regard the final agreement reached in COP28 as an achievement, many have pointed out its major shortcomings, citing weak language and not setting specific targets in certain areas

Finance frustrations

One of the major critiques of the UAE Consensus is the lack of assurances for climate finance.

The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) text that made it into the final agreement removed that it "requests developed country Parties to provide developing country Parties... with long-term, scaled-up, predictable, new and additional finance, technology and capacity-building".

The Loss and Damage Fund, operationalized on the first day of COP28, received $700 million in pledges, a fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars that developing countries say is needed to respond to climate disasters. 

“The transition is neither funded nor fair.  There is not enough finance to help developing countries to decarbonise. This process may have delivered an agreement to move away from fossil fuels, but it’s failed to deliver a plan to fund it. Finance is where the whole energy transition plan will stand or fall,” Adow stated.

With no concrete numbers on finance, and questions around how the energy transition or adaptation is to be funded in developing and vulnerable countries, African countries regard finance as the main agenda item for COP29.

“Communities on the frontline of the climate catastrophe…need to see an unwavering and resolute commitment to a rapid, equitable, and well-funded phaseout of all fossil fuels – together with a comprehensive finance package for developing countries to transition to renewables and cope with escalating climate impacts,” Executive Director of Greenpeace MENA Ghiwa Nakat said.

Equity, indications that developed countries must take the lead in climate action, is almost entirely missing from the final agreement.


Before Consensus, there came hope and despair

During the negotiations, sources told Raseef22 that the UAE was pushing hard for a deal that includes language on fossil fuels.

A December 8 draft of the agreement raised hopes high. It included an option for parties to “phase-out of fossil fuels in line with best available science”.

But many oil-producing countries strongly opposed the draft and called for the text to focus instead on reducing climate pollution, rather than on the fuels that are causing it.

The COP28 conference was also attended by 2,500 fossil fuel lobbyists. OPEC had a pavilion at the venue for the first time.

“If you want to address malaria you don’t invite the mosquitos. If you want to address lung cancer, you don’t invite the tobacco industry,” climate activist Vanessa Nakate said on a panel.

During the negotiations, the UAE came under pressure from Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC, to drop any mention of fossil fuels from the text, according to Reuters. In 2021, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman vowed “We are still going to be the last man standing, and every molecule of hydrocarbon will come out.”

Other OPEC and OPEC+ members including Russia, Iraq and Iran, resisted inserting a fossil fuel phase-out into the final COP28 deal, Reuters reported.

In a December 6 letter, OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais urged members to reject any COP28 deal that targeted fossil fuels. Producers should “proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy” in the form of “fossil fuels rather than emissions,” the letter said.

OPEC, of which the UAE is a member, owns 80 percent of global oil reserves and has produced about 40 percent of the world’s oil over the last decade.

On December 11, a new draft came out, omitting the "phase out" of fossil fuels, and instead listed eight options that countries "could" use to cut emissions. Widely criticized and regarded as having weak language, the draft turned hope into despair. Multiple delegates on December 12 broke into tears as they spoke on panels discussing the deal.

The US State Department called for the draft agreement language to be strengthened, the European Union said the new text was disappointing, and more than 100 countries opposed it.

The December 11 draft was “designed to appease the fossil fuel industry,” Global Policy Campaign Manager at Oil Change International Romain Ioualalen said.


The big bad wolves of the Global North

However, Ioualalen asserted that “we wouldn’t be here” if countries from the Global North – particularly the US, but also Canada, the UK, Norway and Australia – were not planning further expansion of their fossil fuel industry.

Developed countries also sought to water down the language on finance needed to enable the energy transition of the Global South.

The US, the world’s top producer of oil and gas and the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gasses, pledged only $17.5 million to the Loss and Damage Fund. Canada pledged even less, only $16 million.

Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists said that many countries were “hiding behind Saudi Arabia”, but they are also to blame for not providing the finance.

“Be very conscious of the games that are being played here,” Sara Shaw from Friends of the Earth International had warned, asking to take note of who wanted to come out of the negotiations looking good, and who is being blamed.

Oil producers contend that fossil fuels can be mitigated for their environmental impact through the utilization of carbon capture and storage. But the technology is expensive and has yet to be proven at scale. Oil, gas, and coal still account for about 80% of the world's energy, 

At the COP28 closing event, the Saudi delegation did not join in the applause when COP28 President Al-Jaber announced that the final agreement has “language on fossil fuel for the first time ever”.

“Many said this could not be done,” Al-Jaber said, continuing, “An agreement is only as good as its implementation. We are what we do, not what we say. We must take the steps necessary to turn this agreement into tangible action”.


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