Rare success of multilateral climate diplomacy at COP 28 on fossil fuel transition

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai marked a rare success for multilateralism, as all parties agreed to transition away from using fossil fuels in energy systems. This agreement is significant as it explicitly calls for accelerated action to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. However, the text of the agreement has faced criticism for its vague language and potential loopholes.

During COP28, it became clear that current plans for emissions reductions fall well short of what is needed to limit global warming. The agreement states that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 relative to 2019 levels to have a plausible chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century. However, even if countries fulfill their current plans, emissions reductions in 2030 are projected to be only around 5%, putting the world on track for a rise of 2.1°C-2.8°C. More urgent reductions, at a rate of 7% year on year, are necessary to meet the target.

The focus on transitioning away from fossil fuels in the agreement is a result of changing attitudes towards them in both the US and China. America’s domestic consumption of oil and natural gas is expected to decrease or plateau, allowing for increased exports. China, meanwhile, is expanding its renewable and nuclear capacity while also building more coal plants for energy security. These changes demonstrate the complexity of China’s approach to tackling climate change.

Though COP28 achieved some successes, there are ongoing challenges in climate diplomacy. Critics argue that the agreement’s removal of language on a phase-out or phase-down of fossil fuels and its focus on energy systems rather than other sectors that use fossil fuels could undermine its effectiveness. Vague references to the acceptability of transitional fuels, likely including natural gas, have also drawn criticism.

The agreement’s limitations and lack of an enforcement mechanism highlight the challenges ahead. It is crucial to address the needs of the poorest countries and take simultaneous action on multiple fronts to effectively combat climate change. The issue of “loss and damage” suffered by poorer countries due to climate change and the insufficient action taken to address it remains a concern.

Moving forward, COP28’s achievements should serve as a foundation for further progress in global climate efforts. A follow-on deal for climate finance, as well as addressing the concerns of poorer countries, is necessary.

In summary, COP28 delivered a significant advancement by gaining consensus on transitioning away from fossil fuels. However, challenges remain, including the need for more urgent emissions reductions, addressing the needs of poorer countries, and ensuring effective implementation and enforcement of the agreement in the face of potential obstacles.

Source: The Economist