Mixed reactions: COP28 focuses on fossil fuel role in climate change but disregards equity, says CSE

Inclusion of fossil fuels in Global Stocktake important starting point, rest a mixed bag
Photo: UNclimatechange / Flickr
Photo: UNclimatechange / Flickr

The 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) wrapped up on December 13, 2023. The reactions to the conference’s accomplishments have been, at best, mixed, according to Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). 

COP28 had opened with the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund, which was widely applauded. “We welcome the $655.9 million of pledges towards the Fund from various high- and middle-income countries, but it is crucial that the Fund gets replenished periodically with new and additional grant-based finance from developed countries in line with their needs and without conditionalities,” CSE said in a statement. 

On Global Stocktake 

The climate summit concluded with the adoption of the outcome on the first Global Stocktake (GST), an assessment of progress on the goals of the Paris Agreement. The GST recognised the need for deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 degrees Celsius pathways as part of a package of accepted decisions titled “the UAE Consensus”.

The GST urges countries to triple their global renewable energy capacity, phase out unabated coal power, and transition away from fossil fuels in their energy systems. This acknowledgement of the role of fossil fuels is historic, occurring for the first time in over 30 years of climate negotiations.

Sunita Narain, director general of CSE, said: 

The inclusion of fossil fuels in the GST is an important starting point for the world to now discuss the road ahead, which must be based on funding and fairness.

However, the document falls short of laying out a differentiated timeline for fossil fuel phase out, in which developed countries take the lead and do so on an urgent schedule, while developing countries are given more carbon space to grow, CSE researchers pointed out. 

It also failed to emphasise the critical need for developed countries to provide immediate financial assistance to developing countries in order to facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels. As a result, the document weakens the principle of equity by imposing an equal mitigation burden on all countries, CSE said.

The GST compromises on ambition by leaving open the role of “transitional fuels” for energy security, which is a reference to natural gas — a loophole that oil and gas-producing nations can easily exploit to expand production and use. In fact, the GST singles out coal as a fuel and makes no mention of oil and gas at all.

This singling out is taking place at a time when countries like the United States have been ramping up liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to record levels and the European Union is building new LNG import terminals, despite the International Energy Agency’s warning of peaking of fossil fuel demand. These investments risk carbon lock-in till mid-century and beyond, said CSE researchers.

“In the days leading up to the final decision, the narrative was built that developed countries are eager to achieve the 1.5°C target and want to phase out fossil fuels, and large, emerging economies are blockers. This is a misrepresentation since the demand from developing countries was for differentiated timelines and finance for the energy transition. In overlooking this, developed countries look like climate heroes while disregarding equity and also continuing to be major oil and gas producers and consumers,” said Avantika Goswami, programme manager, climate change at CSE.

The rest of the GST decision is a mixed bag. “It acknowledged the gap in adaptation finance and the growing needs of developing countries; however, all references to finance in adaptation have been moved from the adaptation section to the finance section — an ask from developed countries,” said Tamanna Sengupta, programme officer, climate change at CSE.

“The text, however, is also diluted on equity as it fails to hold developed countries accountable for their historical emissions and has removed language specifying the obligation of developed countries to help bridge the finance gap for developing groups to achieve mitigation and adaptation actions,” Sengupta added.

On Global Goal on Adaptation

Another key text adopted was on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), a key demand of the African Group. 

“The final decision text on GGA has some hits and some misses overall. The major miss is the absence of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and a lack of strong language around means of implementation, especially a financial target tied to the other dimensional and thematic targets under the GGA framework. One hit is a timeframe of 2030 to achieve the various thematic targets,” says Akshit Sangomla, who covered COP28 for Down To Earth.

Other items

There was limited progress on negotiation tracks such as the Mitigation Work Programme and the New Collective Quantified Goal on climate finance, which focused mainly on procedural discussions on modalities for the way forward in 2024.

Progress was expected on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which focused on flexible mechanisms for climate cooperation, but more work remains to fully operationalise the trade between countries under Article 6.2 and the international carbon market under Article 6.4.

“As Parties failed to reach an agreement on the market mechanisms under Article 6.2 and 6.4, the vacuum is likely to be filled for another year by dubious voluntary carbon markets,” said Trishant Dev, programme officer, climate change at CSE.

As for non-market mechanisms under Article 6.8, although a decision was adopted, they continue to be given less consideration under the Paris Agreement-based flexible mechanisms, Dev added.

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