‘Breakthrough’ or ‘fossil-fuelled failure’?: Green economy reacts to final COP28 agreement

Reactions are pouring in after the COP28 climate summit in Dubai reached a final agreement this morning. The general consensus is that, while brokering an agreement on transitioning away from fossil fuels is significant, the text has several loopholes on adaptation, cleantech, carbon markets and finance.

‘Breakthrough’ or ‘fossil-fuelled failure’?: Green economy reacts to final COP28 agreement

Pictured: UN climate chief Simon Stiell addressing negotiators after the gavel came down. Image: UNFCCC Flickr / Kiara Worth

The so-called ‘UAE Consensus’ was approved without objection shortly before midday on Wednesday (13 December). Negotiators worked through the night to update the text, after an initial version published on Monday (11 December) was almost unanimously rejected for having blank spaces and wafty phrasing on the energy transition.

Talks were ultimately unable to move the dial on a new climate finance commitment, an adaptation plan, or specifics for operationalising carbon markets. Much has been kicked down the road to COP29.

But an agreement was reached to “transition away” from fossil fuels, with an emphasis on cutting energy sector emissions this decade. The text also calls on countries to implement specific, time-bound solutions such as trebling renewable capacity and doubling the pace of energy efficiency improvements this decade.

This is historic; fossil fuels have only explicitly been mentioned in COP texts since 2021. But the text has lines clearly added by petrostates, conflating man-made carbon capture with the energy transition and touting the need for gas as a transition fuel.

You can read edie’s full summary of what the UAE Consensus includes here.

Below, we round up all the reaction from notable COP28 attendees and green economy leaders from around the world.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General:

“COP28 occurred at a decisive moment in the fight against climate change. It’s important that the outcome clearly reaffirms the need for limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C, [and] that this requires drastic reductions in emissions in this decade.

“For the first time, there is a recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels – after many years in which the discussion of this issue was blocked.

“Science tells us that limiting global heating to 1.5C will be impossible without the phase-out of fossil fuels. This was also recognised by a growing and diverse coalition of countries at COP28.

“The era of fossil fuels must end – and it must end with justice and equity.

“To those who opposed as clear reference to the phase-out of fossil fuels… 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.”

Simon Stiell, UN Executive Secretary on Climate Change:

“COP28 needed to signal a hard stop to fossil fuels and their planet-burning pollution. We didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era, but this is clearly the beginning of the end.

“We must get on with the job of putting the Paris Agreement fully to work.”

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa:

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 and future COPs will only turn the screws even more on dirty energy.

“The text calls for a transition away from fossil fuels in this critical decade. But the transition is not funded or fair. We’re still missing enough finance to help developing countries decarbonise and there needs to be greater expectation on rich fossil fuel producers to phase out first.

“Finance is where the whole energy transition plan will stand or fall. This process might deliver an agreement to move away from fossil fuels, but it’s failing to deliver a plan to fund it.

“Although we’re sending a signal with one hand, there’s still too many loopholes on unproven and expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage which fossil fuel interests will try and use to keep dirty energy on life support.

“[And], on adaptation, the text is very weak.”

Graham Stuart, UK Minister for Energy Security and Net-Zero:

“[It is] incredibly heartening to be here at COP28 today and see unanimous approval of the Global Stocktake – the UAE Consensus. My thanks to COP President Sultan Al-Jaber for steering us to this historic agreement, keeping 1.5C alive and specifying fossil fuel use for the first time ever.”

Editor’s note: Stuart left Dubai this week to vote on the Rwanda bill then swiftly returned, making a 6,000-mile round trip that has sparked anger from NGOs.

Philip Dunne MP, chair of the UK Environmental Audit Committee:

“The penny has dropped at COP and all nations have agreed to move away from fossil fuels and to phase down the use of unabated coal power. While it’s disappointing there was not agreement to phase out fossil fuels, the final agreement recognises that the days of oil, gas and coal powering global economies are numbered. The world has agreed to transition to a decarbonised global economy.”

The Secretariat for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS):

“Our world’s window to keeping 1.5C alive is rapidly closing, and we feel the text does not provide the necessary balance to strengthen global action for course correction on climate change.

“We see a litany of loopholes in this text that are a concern to us… we do not see any commitment or even an invitation for Parties to peak emissions by 2025. We refer to the science throughout the text but then we refrain from an agreement to take the relevant action in order to act in line with what the science says we have to do.

“The paragraph on abatement” can be perceived in a way that underwrites further expansion. Phasing out of “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies is problematic, creating loopholes that were not there before. We see step backward with inclusion of energy poverty and just transition as caveats.”

Editor’s note: It has been reported that some small island states were not ready in the plenary room when the gavel came down. An additional report is here.

Marcio Astrini, executive secretary, Climate Observatory Brazil:

“This COP28 outcome, strong on signals but weak on substance, means the Brazilian government needs to take the lead through 2024 and lay the foundations for a COP30 deal in Belem that delivers for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities and for nature.

“Without real action, the Dubai outcome will not be celebrated among communities across the world who are suffering from climate extreme events.”

Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the Stren Review and co-chair of the Independent High-Level Expert Group on Climate Finance (IHLEG):

“The agreement achieved today is historic and of real value. The decision on the Global Stocktake explicitly recognises, for the first time in the outcome of a UN climate change summit, that the world needs to transition away from all fossil fuels, and towards cleaner alternatives, particularly renewables. It is clear that this transition must be worldwide, at scale, and urgent. While the text of the decision may not be as strong as some have hoped, it is clear that this transition must be powerful and urgent to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases globally by 2050.

“Countries must now respond to the outcome of COP28 through a huge increase in investment in zero-emissions and climate-resilient economic development and growth, particularly in developing countries. The text of the Global Stocktake decision rightly stresses the need to mobilise trillions of dollars in investment to accelerate cuts in greenhouse gases, strengthen adaptation and resilience, and respond to loss and damage.

“That is a challenge that must now be taken forward by finance ministries and the international financial institutions, including the multilateral development banks (MDBs). The IHLEG report sets out how this can be done – a tripling of financing for MDBs and a much closer relationship with the private sector to unleash the huge opportunities in clean and resilient investment, particularly renewables.”

Maria Mendiluce, chief executive, the We Mean Business Coalition:

“Once upon a time the world put its climate future in the hands of a petrostate and asked it to phase out fossil fuels. This isn’t the perfect fairytale ending we had hoped for, but for the first time we have a global agreement to transition away from all fossil fuels in line with the science.  

“COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber wanted to deliver something historic, unprecedented, and although we called for much more, the seeds planted here in UAE will be seen by future generations as the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.  

“Leading businesses came to COP28 with a call for the phase out of fossil fuels, the tripling of renewable capacity and doubling of energy efficiency. Their voices were loud and clear, and their courage to stand up and speak out must be applauded. But the certainty and stability they were seeking in order to tether their investment and innovation plans, will still need to be delivered through national plans. 

“The vast majority of countries have been supportive of ambitious language on the phase out of fossil fuels, and even without explicit agreement to phase out at COP28, we count on these countries to take that language into their NDCs to help guide domestic investment decisions. This in turn will signal to leading businesses which countries have a clear vision and a coherent plan for scaling clean solutions and phasing out of fossil fuels.” 

Ani Dasgupta, president and chief executive, World Resources Institute: 

“While negotiators sent a strong signal in Dubai, the final outcome contains some large footholds for the fossil fuel industry that must be swept away at future negotiations. Most notably, the deal fails to address the limitations of carbon capture technology when the reality is it can only play a very small role in our fight against climate change and should not be used as an excuse to slow the transition to renewables.

“To keep global climate goals within reach, the world needs to achieve $4.3 trillion in annual climate-related finance flows by 2030.  Announcements at COP28 moved things in the right direction with billions of dollars pledged to bolster resilience and support climate action in developing countries. But it is nowhere near enough. Over the next year we need to increase funding commitments, identify new sources and continue to overhaul the international financial system.

“The climate summit in Azerbaijan next year must be one for the history books, when the world finally shifts the scale of climate finance from billions to trillions.”

Theresa May MP, former UK Prime Minister and chair of the Aldersgate Group:

“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation, as well as the biggest economic opportunity of this century. The international community must now rally together and urgently deliver on the commitments made at the summit to keep 1.5°C alive.

“It is imperative that we see more ambitious commitments over the next year, backed up by delivery plans and financial support. Government leadership on climate change will mobilise the private sector and ensure that the whole of the economy play their part in delivering on carbon emissions reductions.”

Eliot Whittington, executive director, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL):

“This agreement marks a watershed move. Nearly 200 countries at the world’s biggest multilateral process finally have named the problem and set out the need to move away from fossil fuels for the first time. Clearly the final text could and should have been much stronger – the visible and strong reaction from some of the most vulnerable countries after the agreement was struck set out many flaws and limitations in what was agreed, from the perspective of those most affected by climate change. This agreement must be the floor, not the ceiling for climate ambition.”

Sherry Madera, chief executive, CDP: 

“As headlines determine snap judgements and historic moments, every one of us must take stock and ask ourselves ‘do we really welcome this?’. Low expectations may have been exceeded, but is that really our measure of success? Yes, the first Global Stocktake has ended with a potentially momentous global agreement to transition away from fossil fuels. While this is absolutely to be celebrated, COP28 has ultimately failed to deliver a Stocktake that fulfils its potential. We are left without a crystal clear, actionable roadmap for implementation for all actors on climate and nature.

“The final Stocktake makes little reference to the transparency and accountability of non-state actors. A Stocktake should be a measurement based on data. More words without data and transparency gets us nowhere. By discounting these crucial economic actors, we risk being left with a restricted view of the problem and little means to hold all entities, in particular, those with disproportionate impacts on climate change, to account as the cycle continues. As it stands, as little as 24% of disclosing companies are on track to meet their targets.”

Nikki Reisch, director of climate and energy, Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL):

“Countries at COP28 faced a choice between fossil fuels and life. And big polluters chose fossil fuels. Despite the unstoppable momentum and unequivocal science behind the need for a clear signal on the phaseout of oil, gas, and coal – free of loopholes or limitations – the text failed to deliver one.

“This failure was thirty years in the making, borne of a process that allows a select few countries to hold progress hostage and the fossil fuel industry not just to sit at the table, but to play host. Survival cannot depend on lowest-common-denominator outcomes. We need alternative forums to manage the decline of fossil fuels, free from the influence of those who profit from them.

“So long as the biggest polluters, the United States chief among them, continue recklessly expanding oil and gas and staunchly refusing to provide climate finance on anything approaching the scale needed, the world will remain on a death course. Ultimately, lives depend not on what countries profess in these halls, but what they do outside of them.”

Helen Clarkson, chief executive, the Climate Group:

“COP28 has come to a close not with fireworks but with a modest fanfare. We finally have agreement to transition away from fossil fuels, although the lack of a clear commitment to phase them out is a let-down. While we have a transition away from fossil fuels this is simply not good enough, at this stage. 

“But there are some positive steps on trebling renewable energy, doubling energy efficiency and financing loss and damage. It’s also important that we’ve now got a COP text that recognises multilevel action and the role subnational governments play on climate change. We’ve been pushing for this for some time, including through our governments in the Under2 Coalition. Now we must get to work in making it a practical reality through NDCs in the run-up to 2025.  

“This outcome is a start but it’s just a start. Countries need to reduce emissions urgently and phase out fossil fuels – and we must have strong financing in place to support that. Without tangible targets and measurable commitments this risks being all talk and no substance. Nothing less than transformational change is needed to meet the scale of the challenge.” 

May Boeve, executive director, 350.org:

“People power has propelled us to the doorstep of history but leaders have stopped short of entering the future we need. It is frustrating that thirty years of campaigning managed to get ‘transition from fossil fuels’ in the COP text, but it is surrounded by so many loopholes that it has been rendered weak and ineffectual.

“The prize is finally on the table – a phase-out of fossil fuels and a world powered by renewable energy – but rather than clearing the way to it, we’ve been presented with yet another set of distracting doors that could still hold oil and gas expansion, and we don’t know just where the finance will come from.

“The change we have seen in negotiators’ stance is a weak but welcome nod to the communities who have spoken loud and clear over the past few weeks…We hoped this COP would bring international governments to the same building site, and for wealthy nations like Australia, Canada, the EU, the UK and the US to pay their fair share, and support the most vulnerable countries to transition to a 100% renewable future. That would be leadership to match what we’ve witnessed from the AOSIS states, from our Pacific Climate Warriors, and from the youth movement. That is when we can call this a win.”

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive of theAssociation for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology:

“For the first time in three decades of climate negotiations, the words fossil fuels have featured in a COP outcome, which is indeed a historic moment and emphasises that the time for renewables is now.

“While grateful that this text has entered the agreement, I am wary of how each nation will pursue what they believe are courses of actions. We must all now be vigilant in holding our world leaders, including the UK, to account.

“The next time we will have a view of this progress with clear data as part of the Global Stock Take will not be until 2025 in Brazil. Therefore, moving forward ,the REA will encourage the UK Government to ensure this call is delivered in domestic policy, with clear pathways that phase out unabated fossil fuels. This is absolutely crucial for maintaining any sense of UK leadership on the global stage.”

Joab Okanda, senior climate advisor, Christian Aid:

“It is clear that the era of fossil fuels is coming to a close. We may not have driven the nail into the coffin here at COP28 but the end is coming for dirty energy.  But there is a gaping hole on finance to actually fund the transition from dirty to clean energy in developing countries. Without that, we risk the global shift being much slower.

“We now need to see rich countries following up their warm words about wanting a fossil fuel phase-out with actions to actually bring it about and end their use of coal, oil and gas by the end of this decade.”

Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner, Friends of the Earth:

“Self-interest, weak leadership and a lack of urgency by wealthy countries like the UK, Japan and US and the EU bloc, has resulted in a desperately inadequate COP28 resolution that leaves the world on a collision course with the worst of climate breakdown.

“These talks will never achieve the breakthrough we need until the rich countries that have contributed most to the climate crisis, including the UK, face up to their responsibilities by phasing out the use of fossil fuels fairly and fast and by providing adequate funding for poorer nations.

“We urgently need our leaders to seize the huge opportunities growing a green economy would bring, from new, long-term jobs and lower energy bills, to improving our health and wellbeing, as well as protecting the planet for future generations.”

Linda Kalcher, Executive Director, Strategic Perspectives:

“For the first time, the UN climate talks have addressed the need to stop burning fossil fuels. COP28 marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.

“Economic realities will kill some of the false solutions that this text still gives room to, such as CCS and so called “transition fuels”, but these cannot be allowed to distract from the job at hand. The COP28 leadership cannot claim they have saved 1.5C.”

Kristian Teleki, chief executive, Fauna & Flora:

“One simple fact cannot be ignored: the production and use of fossil fuels is the single biggest driver of the climate crisis. This is now in the public consciousness like never before, and we welcome that for the first time all fossil fuels are referenced in a COP decision text. However, the wording does not reflect the scale and pace of change needed to correct the course to climate chaos we are currently on.

“What we need now is urgency; from nations and from corporates. We are irrevocably past the debating stage; we need robust action now to phase out the use and production of fossil fuels as urgently and as fairly as possible. Otherwise, we will not have a liveable planet left to fight over.

“One resounding quality of the Global Stocktake outcome is the recognition of nature as our greatest ally in the fight against climate change, and explicit mention of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework will help ensure efforts to tackle the nature and climate crises are better aligned. However, it cannot be emphasised enough the importance of putting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities at the heart of climate and biodiversity loss strategies. If we don’t protect nature and nature’s guardians, then nature cannot protect us from climate change; it’s a downwards spiral.”

Ruth Davis, senior associate, Smith School of Enterprise and Environment Oxford:

“Food and nature has long been overdue more space in the COP negotiating texts. For the first time ever, the promise to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 has become a formal outcome. And 150+ countries pledged to put food in their new climate plans.

“The forgotten third of global greenhouse gas emissions will be under proper scrutiny, providing there is funding on the table. What we need now is to deliver on the money.”

Fernanda Carvalho, global climate and energy policy lead, WWF:

“Along with phasing out fossil fuels, nature is integral to effective climate action. It is disappointing to see countries not including the recommendation by the IPCC to protect 30 to 50% of all ecosystems. This should have been the moment where countries committed to tackle the climate and nature emergencies in parallel. Action to restore nature and transform food systems is vital to reduce emissions and build greater resilience to rising temperatures.

“While countries again recognized the importance of nature-based solutions, we should have seen ambition on combined climate-nature action increasing, particularly in the wake of the landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework agreed this time last year.” 

Sidhi Mittal and Sarah George

Click here to view all of edie’s COP28 content

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