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COP28: Global stocktake calling on countries to transition away from fossil fuels just adopted

The new text's quick adoption has come as a surprise to many in the plenary session, who expected more debate, and perhaps even further revisions.
Melodie Michel
COP28: Global stocktake calling on countries to transition away from fossil fuels just adopted

A new version of the global stocktake that received mixed reviews early this morning has just been adopted without further debate. It calls on countries to transition away from fossil fuels to stick to a 1.5ºC temperature rise – a “historic outcome” for analysts.

After yesterday’s ‘choose your own adventure’ draft, which gave a number of non-binding options for countries to choose from to achieve emissions reductions, today’s text sends a stronger signal, but its quick adoption has come as a surprise to many in the plenary session, who expected to hear reactions from parties, and perhaps even further revisions. 

That said, many countries and stakeholders – even those who hoped for stronger language on the phase-out of fossil fuels – are welcoming the deal. US special envoy on climate John Kerry noted that while “nobody here will see their views completely reflected”, the document sends “a very strong signal to the world”. “For the first time in the history of our regime, the decision calls for transitioning away from fossil fuels to achieve net zero by 2050. We would have liked clearer language about the need to begin peaking. We would know this was a compromise between parties,” he added.

For Ani Dasgupta, CEO of the World Resources Institute, this is “a historic outcome”: “Fossil fuels finally faced a reckoning at the UN climate negotiations after three decades of dodging the spotlight. This historic outcome marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. Despite immense pressure from oil and gas interests, high ambition countries courageously stood their ground and sealed the fate of fossil fuels. Now a critical test is whether far more finance is mobilised for developing countries to help make the energy transition possible,” he said.

‘An important signal to markets and to the private sector’

Observers welcomed the removal of the ‘menu options’ as the final agreement “calls on parties” to contribute to all types of efforts to achieve a net zero economy, from tripling renewable energy capacity to accelerating low technologies, phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and, crucially, “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

“The energy transition language here signals a significant shift in the terrain on fossil fuels and places a critically important marker in terms of what needs to happen to tackle the climate crisis. Transitioning away means that we will move over time and before mid-century to an energy system that is predominantly free of fossil fuels. This also sends important signals to markets and to the private sector about the direction of travel,” said David Waskow, Global Climate Direction at WRI.

Meanwhile, UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Head of Climate Risk and TCFD David Carlin welcomed the strengthening of the call for action, but warned that language on the phase-out of coal has been weakened, and that a new paragraph referencing the role of "transitional fuels" seems to create a loophole for the continued production and use of natural gas, and perhaps oil as well. “This feels like a concession,” he said. Carlin added that he believed and hoped this was not the final version this morning – and has not yet reacted to the global stocktake adoption.

Financing the transition

While the final text recognises that countries will follow different pathways in the transition depending on their national circumstances, it falls short of setting clear ambitions for its financing – with US$4.3 trillion needed annually.

“What we haven't seen in particular is a lot of strengthening around the finance to enable the next phase of climate policymaking and that rapid shift of economies. That's been the crux question that's come up in the debate here in Dubai. There's been a significant group of champion countries pushing for a strong switch out of fossil fuels or a very strong phase-out and we've seen questions raised about how you fund that transition and how you fund that rapid acceleration,” said Alex Scott, E3G’s Climate Diplomacy and Geopolitics Programme Lead. She expected this question to be raised before the stocktake’s adoption, but believes there are also “strong pathways out of Dubai” to answer them.

No limitations on carbon capture and storage

Compared to the previous draft, the final agreement clarified that the development of carbon capture and storage technologies – a contentious issue that was seen as fossil fuels’ trojan horse – was recommended “particularly in hard-to-abate sectors” – but failed to truly address its limitations.

“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,” said Dasgupta.

The global stocktake agreement was a necessary outcome of COP28: a text that will inform the next round of national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. When yesterday’s draft received almost unanimous criticism, it became clear that the conference would go into overtime. Exhausted negotiators held discussions until late in the night and this morning, a new draft of the stocktake was released early today.

But 24 hours after the official end of the conference, COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber seemed overjoyed that the agreement was finally adopted. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you. We have travelled a long road together in a short amount of time. We have worked very hard to secure a better future for our people and planet. We should be proud of our historic achievements. My country, UAE, is proud of its role in helping you move forward. 

“We have delivered a comprehensive response to the global stocktake. We have delivered a robust action plan to keep 1.5C in reach. It is a balanced plan that addresses emissions… it is built on common ground. It is strengthened by full inclusivity. It is a historic package to accelerate climate action. It is the UAE consensus.”