Africa: COP28 Agreement to Move Away From Fossil Fuels Sets Precedent but Falls Short of Safeguarding Human Rights

COP28 in Dubai has agreed on the need to move away from fossil fuels for the first time, at the end of a climate summit marred by restrictions on civil society, and the United Arab Emirates’ blatant contempt for human rights, Amnesty International said.

The headline COP28 agreement on the Global Stocktake to ”transition away” from fossil fuels for energy is the first time that fossil fuels have been mentioned in COP decisions. It recognizes their role as drivers of the climate crisis and the harm that they are inflicting on the climate and environment, and gives a strong signal that their phase out is inevitable and underway.

”COP28 has for the first time signalled the need to move away from fossil fuels which is testament to the people-powered campaign that has pushed for this for decades. Yet the outcome leaves loopholes allowing fossil fuel producers and states to continue with business as usual, and so falls short of what is needed to protect the rights of billions of people facing climate harms,” said Amnesty International’s Programme Director of Climate, Economic and Social Justice and Corporate Accountability, Marta Schaaf.

COP28 has for the first time signalled the need to move away from fossil fuels which is testament to the people-powered campaign that has pushed for this for decades.Marta Schaaf, Amnesty International’s Programme Director of Climate, Economic and Social Justice and Corporate Accountability

”The lack of adequate commitments on funding by developed countries to help other states adapt to the harmful impacts of climate change, is wholly inadequate and leaves Indigenous peoples, frontline communities and other marginalized groups in jeopardy.”

An earlier flawed agreement at COP on how to manage the Loss and Damage Fund which is aimed at providing effective remedies for communities experiencing the most severe adverse impacts of climate change was also undermined by the low amounts of financing committed so far.

Amnesty International’s Climate Advisor Ann Harrison said: ”It is deeply worrying that the final agreement reflects fossil fuel fairy tales that unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage, which do not yet exist, will somehow provide the answer to global warming. The emphasis on ‘transitional fuels’ role in the energy transition and weak language on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies effectively gives the fossil fuel industry a waiver to keep expanding production.”

It is deeply worrying that the final agreement reflects fossil fuel fairy tales that unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage, which do not yet exist, will somehow provide the answer to global warmingAnn Harrison, Amnesty International’s Climate Advisor

Amnesty International said COP28 was sullied by the restrictions on civic space, as well as the record numbers of fossil fuel lobbyists at the summit. We are calling for COP hosting arrangements to be strengthened and for Host Country Agreements to be published as a matter of course to guarantee respect for and protection of human rights and for the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) to develop a clear conflict of interest policy and robust accountability framework.

COP28 was further marred by the UAE government’s double standards and contempt for human rights both within and outside the global conference. Instead of releasing scores of critics it has detained, and showing that it was willing to host an inclusive summit, it began a new mass trial of dissidents on trumped up terrorism charges.

The media spotlight may move on from the UAE as COP ends but Amnesty International will continue to campaign relentlessly for human rights reforms in the UAE, including demanding the release of all Emirati dissidents and calling for the end to all arbitrary detention and unfair trials. Amnesty International will keep campaigning for the release of Ahmed Mansoor, the last Emirati citizen working openly for the promotion and protection of human rights in his country, who has been held since 2017. It is also demanding that unlawful digital surveillance be halted, and for same sex relationships to be decriminalized.

Ann Harrison said: ”The self-interest of the UAE, an OPEC member, and its brazen violations of human rights, sullied COP28 and helped facilitate, once again, the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to capture a UN summit. This included installing Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of the UAE’s state oil and gas company – who questions established climate science and was prepared to use UN meetings to promote his fossil fuel interests – as COP president.”

Guidelines for protests and actions were unusually strictly enforced at COP28 by the UNFCCC, affecting attempts to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and to raise concerns about the UAE’s dismal human rights record, including its prohibition on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, as well its denial of a range of other rights, including those of migrant workers.

Summits will only generate meaningful results if everyone is free to criticize, gather and peacefully demonstrate, and is meaningfully able to inform the design and outcome of global climate policies. In addition to the onerous process to secure approval for actions in the UNFCCC-administered COP28 Blue Zone, without which protestors risked being expelled from the conference, there was widespread video surveillance operating throughout all areas. Anyone engaged in an action was recorded, generating an atmosphere of intimidation. No one dared hold protests outside of the space administered by the UNFCCC, due to fear of arrest under the UAE’s draconian laws that criminalize dissent.

Ann Harrison said: ”Restrictions on civic space at this COP have cast a long shadow over civil society’s ability to speak truth to power freely. Lessons must be learned and measures implemented to better protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly at future COPs. Climate justice demands bolder, continued and participatory action, centred on the protection and respect for human rights.”

Restrictions on civic space at this COP have cast a long shadow over civil society’s ability to speak truth to power freely. Ann Harrison

Background

The total pledged to the Loss and Damage Fund, to be administered initially by the World Bank subject to its agreement to various operating conditions, was about US$700 million, which is barely enough to get it up and running. The choice of the World Bank was heavily criticized by civil society due to concerns about lack of human rights protections in its funding model. Funding made available to developing nations to help adapt to climate change was only about half of a US$300 million target, even though hundreds of billions of dollars are required.

This COP has agreed that Azerbaijan will host next year’s summit. Its fossil fuel industry also helps finance a highly authoritarian system, and the state engages in lavish public relations to try and gloss over its appalling record of repression, arbitrary detention of critics, torture of detainees and the crushing of civil society. The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are highly restricted and LGBTI individuals are widely discriminated against.