The fossil fuel COP and the hope beyond COP28

The fossil fuel COP and the hope beyond COP28

Pedro Walpole SJ and Mary Criselle Mejillano

The two-week UN Climate Change Conference COP28 formally closed on 13 December with the release of a global agreement that finally identifies fossil fuels as the main culprit in the climate problem. The First Global Stocktake (GST) decision text lays out what the negotiators from more than 200 countries agreed  – to move away from fossil fuels and take action to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

But this agreement was a disappointment for the representatives of island states and developing countries – those that have the least carbon emissions and are most vulnerable to the climate crisis. They criticized the agreement as a “litany of loopholes” and barely referenced the concepts of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities of individual countries in addressing climate change.

Critical concerns of the GST text include the following:

  • The agreement clearly states a consensus to “transition away from fossil fuels” but does not explicitly mention a complete fossil fuel phaseout. “Transition energy systems” and “transition fuels” were not fully elaborated and these are viewed as loopholes.
  • Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shared that “the COP28 agreement will not enable the world to hold the 1.5C limit. The fossil fuel statement remains too vague, with no hard and accountable boundaries for 2030, 2040 and 2050.” He noted too that the transition away from fossil fuels “we know will not happen through national voluntary means alone. Collective global agreements on finance, carbon pricing, and technology exchange are also needed at a scale that vastly exceeds what is now on the table.”
  • While there is “increase in climate finance from developed countries in 2021 to USD 89.6 billion” the text can only note the “deep regret” for the undelivered finances to bridge gaps by developed countries.
  • The Loss and Damage fund amounts to USD 792 million so far which is less than 1% of what vulnerable countries need. The decision acknowledges gaps to respond to the increased scale of loss and damage and include non-economic losses.
  • Multilateral development banks and other financial institutions are called to further scale up investments in climate action and ensure climate finance access in the form of grants. However, reforming financial systems remains a key concern.
  • The decision highlights “attaining climate-resilient food and agricultural production and supply and distribution of food” as an adaptation measure, but there industrial agriculture is not mentioned and the agendas of the 340+ agribusiness lobbyists.
Despite the “litany of loopholes,” COP28 negotiators and participants applauded the passing of the UAE Consensus. Afterwards, Anne Rasmussen, Samoa lead negotiator and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), delivered a statement on the GST decision that what was achieved was “an incremental advancement over business as usual” when what is needed is an “exponential step-change in our actions and support.”

Dubbed as the “UAE Consensus”, COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber in his remarks during the closing plenary hailed the agreement as a historic package to accelerate climate action and was met with a standing ovation.

As soon the applause died down, Anne Rasmussen, Samoa lead negotiator and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) delivered a statement on the GST decision, mentioning that none of the AOSIS representatives where in the room when the agreement was passed:

“The draft text you have presented to us contains many good elements. We see strong references to the science complemented by a clear runway with milestones for strengthening Party efforts to prepare and submit enhanced NDCs through to 2025. We also welcome the establishment of the technology implementation programme. These elements are important.

“The question we have considered as AOSIS is whether they are enough. Zoning in on paragraphs 26-29 of this draft decision we have come to the conclusion that the course correction that is needed has not yet been secured. We have made an incremental advancement over business as usual when what we really needed is an exponential step-change in our actions and support.”

The hope beyond COP28

It is a huge struggle to grapple with the entirety of the COP process and its latest outcome. “Options without obligations” and “death sentence” are some of the reactions to COP28. Oil-rich nations tried to stop any mention of fossil fuel phaseout in the final document which has been the fundamental failure since COP21 in 2015. Disappointment is an understatement as loopholes are woven into the text, enabling business as usual.

As the world enters a high probability of breaching the 1.5°C degree tipping point by 2030, crumbs are given to countries and the world will rush aid packages when the next disaster strikes. The struggle goes on as the poor and the youth are not really referenced in this contest.

The process has been difficult, and COP29 in Baku, Azerbaijan will not be easier. But there is still worth in pausing and being still for a moment. From the beginning, UN Secretary-General António Guterres among others sought to sustain political integrity in the face of conflict.

While COP28 proceeded with two nearby wars, the purpose of COP did not collapse into accusation and counter accusation between peoples. This is an important moment in history for all – bringing nearly 200 countries together is an achievement for all the limitations of UN processes.

The faith voice is also being acknowledged much more coherently in the UN process, as faith organizations came together in response to the moral and humble call for justice.

The challenge is to find ways to remain engaged in our national contexts while accompanying the concerns of the youth and the poor.

May we continue to seek to serve better the human family and the diversity of life that belongs to future generations.

Reprinted with modifications from the original article published in COP28 Closing: A historically lukewarm outcome.


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