Takeaways from COP28: What does the climate deal say?

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 05: Participants attend day six at dusk of the UNFCCC COP28 Climate Conference at Expo City Dubai on December 05, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The COP28, which is running from November 30 through December 12, is bringing together stakeholders, including international heads of state and other leaders, scientists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples representatives, activists and others to discuss and agree on the implementation of global measures towards mitigating the effects of climate change. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Participants attend day six at dusk of the COP28 summit in Dubai on December 5.Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Nearly 200 countries agreed to a new climate deal at the COP28 talks in Dubai on Wednesday, after two weeks of negotiations characterized by controversy and bitter divisions over the future of fossil fuels.

The decision has been called historic, with some experts declaring that it signals the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. Others say it’s undermined by a “litany of loopholes.”

Here’s why the final agreement is dividing opinion.

What’s in the climate deal?

The agreement marks the first time the annual UN meeting has asked countries to move away from fossil fuels — the main driver of the climate crisis.

The text of the agreement “calls on” countries to “contribute” to global efforts to reduce carbon pollution. It lists a menu of actions they can take, including “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems … accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050.”

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Participants arrive for a plenary session during the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 13, 2023. A draft UN climate deal called on December 13 for the world to transition away from fossil fuels, in a last-ditch bid to break a deadlock between nations seeking a phase-out from oil, gas and coal and Saudi-led crude producers. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

World agrees to climate deal that makes unprecedented call to move away from fossil fuels, but ‘cavernous’ loopholes remain

What the agreement doesn’t do is require a “phase-out” of fossil fuels. That ambitious language was supported by more than 100 countries, including the United States and European Union, but was fiercely opposed by fossil fuel states such as Saudi Arabia.

The agreement also calls for a tripling of renewable energy capacity and a doubling of energy efficiency, both by 2030.

Countries are also being asked to have detailed adaptation plans in place by 2025, to show how they intend to deal with the current and future impacts of the escalating climate crisis.

The agreement also acknowledges the need for trillions of dollars of funding to flow from rich countries to poorer, climate vulnerable ones, to help them adapt climate change and transition to renewable energy. But there are no requirements in the deal for wealthy countries to give more.

What are the loopholes?

The agreement contains a “litany of loopholes” which could “take us backward rather than forward,” Anne Rasmussen, the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, said in a speech Wednesday.

Climeworks factory with it's fans in front of the collector, drawing in ambient air and release it, as largely purified CO2 through ventilators at the back is seen at the Hellisheidi power plant near Reykjavik on October 11, 2021. - Climeworks factory is in ICELAND containers similar to those used in maritime transport are stacked up in pairs, 10 metres (33 feet) high. 
Fans in front of the collector draw in ambient air and release it, largely purified of CO2, through ventilators at the back. (Photo by Halldor KOLBEINS / AFP) (Photo by HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Those loopholes refer to the option for countries to accelerate zero- and low-carbon technologies, including carbon capture and storage – a set of techniques that are still being developed with the aim of removing carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

Many scientists and other experts have said that carbon capture is unproven at scale and a distraction from policies to cut fossil fuel use, potentially giving license to polluters to carry on burning fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency sees a limited role for carbon capture in energy-hungry sectors such as steelmaking, which can’t yet be effectively powered by renewables like wind and solar.

Another “loophole” that has angered some countries and climate experts is the agreement’s recognition of a continued role for “transitional fuels” — largely interpreted to mean methane gas, a planet-heating fossil fuel.

What are people saying about the agreement?

Several climate negotiators and international groups called the final text historic and significant, while also being careful to say it does not go far enough or fast enough to rein in the climate crisis.

“The message coming out of this COP is we are moving away from fossil fuels,” US climate envoy John Kerry told reporters at a Wednesday press conference. While he acknowledged the final agreement represented a compromise, he called it a success and a vindication of multilateralism.

Pioneer Natural Resources equipment near Midland, Texas, US, on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2203. Exxon Mobil Corp. agreed to buy Pioneer Natural Resources Co. for $59.5 billion, the supermajor's largest takeover in more than two decades, as it seeks to become the dominant producer of shale oil.

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“We’re not turning back,” he added.

Other observers noted the text gives leeway to fossil fuel producers.

Tom Evans, a policy advisor at E3G, told CNN “there are some good elements in here but the signal on fossil fuels is muddled – it recognizes that we are turning away from fossil fuels at long last but still too slowly.”

The draft “sends a signal that the fossil industry’s days are numbered,” Teresa Anderson, global climate lead at ActionAid, said in a statement. But, she added, it still contains “offers several gifts to the greenwashers, with mentions of carbon capture and storage, so-called transition fuels, nuclear power and carbon markets.”

What else came out of COP28?

The first day of COP28 opened with a surprise agreement to adopt a climate damage fund that was the result of decades of hard-fought negotiations.

Many countries, including COP28 host country the UAE, have since made pledges totaling more than $700 million to help nations hit hardest by the climate crisis deal with its consequences.

A flare burns off excess gas from a gas plant in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S., November 25, 2019. Picture taken November 25, 2019.  REUTERS/Angus Mordant

US announces rule to slash powerful planet-warming methane by nearly 80% from oil and gas

More announcements on climate finance were made during the rest of the summit; the UAE pledged to create a $30 billion climate finance fund and put $250 million into it by the end of the decade.

During Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to COP, the US pledged $3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund, the main finance vehicle to help developing nations adapt to the climate crisis and cut fossil fuel pollution.

Slashing emissions of methane, a powerful planet-warming gas, was also a sharp focus in the early days of the meeting. The US announced regulations to cut methane pollution from the nation’s huge oil and gas industry by nearly 80% through 2038.

And 50 major oil and gas companies, including Exxon and Saudi Aramco, signed a pledge to cut their methane emissions by the end of the decade, each committing to reduce their methane intensity by around 80% to 90% by 2030.

What comes next?

Now the deal is agreed, countries are required to update their national plans in 2025 to reduce emissions, detailing how much they’ll cut down on planet-warming pollution by 2035.

The US and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, have already jointly committed that their plans will cover all economy-wide climate pollution, and https://selerapedas.com reduce emissions from non-CO2 gases such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons. That agreement marked a major commitment from China, in particular, which emits more carbon dioxide than the rest of the developed world combined.

Speaking Wednesday, Kerry said the two countries were actively encouraging the rest of the world’s nations to follow. But Kerry warned that more ambition was needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“That’s our challenge. Speed it up; bring it to scale – bigger, faster,” Kerry said.

Attention will now move to next year’s summit. After a fraught selection process, Azerbaijan, another major oil and gas producing nation, was tapped to host the 2024 talks.

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