Africa: COP28 Ends With Agreement On Fossil Fuels, but Reservations Remain

United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, says limiting global heating to 1.5°C will be impossible without the phase-out of fossil fuels.

The United Nations conference on climate change ended in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday, with an agreement on transitioning away from fossil fuels, the substances that cause climate change.

While many have lauded the inclusion of language for transitioning away from these substances, many, including the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, think it is inevitable to phase out fossil fuels.

”To those who opposed a clear reference to phase-out of fossil fuels during the COP28 Climate Conference, I want to say: whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late,” the UN Chief said as soon as the agreement was reached.

In a post on social networking platform X (formerly Twitter), Mr Guterres said science, which featured prominently in the two-week conference, says limiting global heating to 1.5°C will be impossible without the phase-out of fossil fuels.

”The era of fossil fuels must end – and it must end with justice and equity,” Mr Guterres said.

Addressing the delegates at the start of the conference, the UN head had urged nations to phase out fossil fuels: ”We cannot save a burning planet with a firehose of fossil fuels. We must accelerate a just, equitable transition to renewables.”

On a positive note, the adopted text also called for tripling renewable energy and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

It also called for the acceleration of efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power. It recognised that transitional fuels could play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security.

The first in 30 years

”For the first time in three decades of climate negotiations, the words ‘fossil fuels’ have made it into a COP outcome. We are finally naming the elephant in the room. The genie is never going back into the bottle,” Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, said, applauding the adopted text.

Despite the new text’s strong signal, he says the world must refrain from embarking on unproven and expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage, which fossil fuel interests will attempt to use to keep dirty energy on life support.

”The transition is neither funded nor fair. Finance is where the whole energy transition plan will stand or fall. We also need much more financial support to help vulnerable people in some of the poorest countries adapt to climate breakdown impacts,” Mr Adow added.

For Joab Okanda, Senior Climate Advisor, Christian Aid, ”It is clear that the era of fossil fuels is coming to a close.”

Although the much-desired phase-out was not adopted, he is optimistic that the end is coming for dirty energy.

He said ”There is a gaping hole in climate finance to fund the transition from dirty to clean energy in developing countries. Without that, we risk the global shift being much slower.”

Many other civil society organisations had mixed feelings about the outcome document.

”Fossil fuels are the leading driver of climate change and its health impacts, and inflict additional health hazards from the moment of extraction to combustion,” said Jess Beagley, Policy Lead, Global Climate and Health Alliance.

She said the adopted text signalling the impending end of the fossil fuel era named the need to end dependence on fossil fuels for the first time in 30 years but leaves gaping and potentially dangerous loopholes such as carbon capture and storage, ”transitional fuels” like fossil gas, and nuclear power.

Carbon Capture and Storage involves technology for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) at emission sources, transporting and then storing or burying it in a suitable deep, underground location.

Harjeet Singh, Head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, noted that although ”a glaring spotlight on the real culprits of the climate crisis”, the resolution is marred by loopholes that offer the fossil fuel industry numerous escape routes, relying on unproven, unsafe technologies.

”The hypocrisy of wealthy nations, particularly the USA, as they continue to expand fossil fuel operations massively while merely paying lip service to the green transition, stands exposed. Developing countries, still dependent on fossil fuels for energy, income, and jobs, need robust guarantees for adequate financial support in their urgent and equitable transition to renewable energy.

This story was produced as part of the 2023 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organised by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.