COP28 Settles for Milder ‘Transitioning Away’ Versus ‘Phase-out’ of Fossil Fuels

Countries agree on tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030


World leaders settled for a weaker text that spoke of ‘transitioning away’ from fossil fuels instead of a more definitive ‘phase-out’ at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

After lengthy deliberations that went beyond the scheduled close of the two-week event, the declaration called on nations to contribute to ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, to achieve net zero by 2050.’

That the parties agreed to even this in the face of steadfast opposition to the use of ‘phase-out’ by oil-producing nations is in itself a move forward, even if critics view the language in the declaration as not compelling enough for countries to initiate action to achieve net zero.

In all, 198 countries were signatories to the ‘UAE Consensus.’

While calling for tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030, the conference also wanted efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power accelerated.

The nations also agreed on hastening efforts toward zero- and low-emission technologies, including renewables, nuclear, abatement, and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production.

Earlier during the conference, India had refused to sign a pledge endorsed by some 118 countries to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 and simultaneously phase out coal.

The conference noted that over the past decade, the unit costs of several low-emission technologies have fallen continuously, notably wind power and solar power and storage, thanks to technological advancements and economies of scale

Other decisions that were taken at the conference included:

  • Accelerating and substantially reducing non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions, by 2030
  • Accelerating the reduction of emissions from road transport on a range of pathways, including through the development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles
  • Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions as soon as possible

In a report in September, the International Monetary Fund said total fossil fuel subsidies amounted to a whopping $7 trillion in 2022, or 7.1% of global GDP.

The conference was concerned that, despite progress, global greenhouse gas emissions trajectories are not yet in line with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement and that there is a rapidly narrowing window for raising ambition and implementing existing commitments in order to achieve it.

It said the carbon budget consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal is now small and rapidly depleted. It acknowledged that historical cumulative net carbon dioxide emissions already account for about four-fifths of the total carbon budget for a 50% probability of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.

Adaptation finance needs

The COP28 declaration highlighted that the adaptation finance needs of developing countries are estimated at $215–$387 billion annually up until 2030 and that about $4.3 trillion per year needs to be invested in clean energy up until 2030, after that increasing to $5 trillion per year up until 2050, to be able to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

It called for scaling up new and additional grant-based, highly concessional finance and non-debt instruments, which are critical to supporting developing countries, particularly as they transition in a just and equitable manner.

The conference recognized the role of the private sector and the need to strengthen policy guidance, incentives, regulations, and enabling conditions to reach the scale of investments required to achieve a global transition towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.