The COP28 Climate Summit ended on Wednesday with an historic deal to phase out fossil fuels. After a somewhat controversial start in a world that continues to try to kick the climate can down the road, that an agreement on a global fossil fuel phase-out already feels like an achievement.
At the same time, though, the UN’s nonbinding agreements, including the Paris Accords, have not led to a meaningful reduction in emissions, to put it mildly. Emissions were up by 1.1 percent in 2022, wiping out the pandemic-driven reductions of 2020.
Some countries claimed the deal signaled the end of the fossil fuel era, but more ambitious nations and climate advocates said it was still far from sufficient to reflect the growing urgency of the climate crisis.
“At long last the loud calls to end fossil fuels have landed on paper in black and white at this COP,” said Jean Su, the energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, “but cavernous loopholes threaten to undermine this breakthrough moment.”
COP28 has taken place at the end of a year defined by unprecedented global heat, which has driven deadly extreme weather, including record wildfires, deadly heat waves and catastrophic floods. This year is officially the hottest on record, due to a combination of human-caused global warming and El Niño, and next year is set to be hotter still.
Many climate experts, while cautiously welcoming the reference to fossil fuels in the agreement, point to serious weaknesses, including leaving the door open for fossil fuel expansion to continue.
Some countries and experts were alarmed by the agreement’s recognition of a role for “transitional fuels” in the energy transition — largely interpreted to mean natural gas, a planet-heating fossil fuel.
“We want to raise the alarm that transition fuel will become permanent especially in developing countries,” said an Antigua and Barbuda delegate.