DUBAI, Dec 13 (Swara) – In a groundbreaking yet contentious move, nations at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai agreed on Wednesday to a plan for transitioning away from fossil fuels. This significant decision marks the first of its kind at a United Nations climate summit, although it stops short of explicitly calling for a complete phase-out of oil, coal, and gas, a key demand of many environmental activists and climate-vulnerable countries.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, reacting to the adoption of the outcome document, acknowledged that including the world’s leading contributor to climate change in the conference’s final text comes after years of avoidance. He emphasized the urgency of ending the era of fossil fuels in a manner that ensures justice and equity. Guterres also pointed out the certainty of a fossil fuel phase-out, expressing hope that it arrives in time to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The latest UN climate conference, which commenced on November 30 in Dubai, was initially scheduled to conclude on Tuesday. However, intense overnight negotiations centring on whether to include language encouraging a “phasedown” or a “phase-out” of fossil fuels extended the conference. This debate reflected the central point of contention between climate activists, vulnerable nations, and some of the larger, more influential countries.

In his statement, Guterres highlighted the clarity of scientific evidence, stating that limiting global heating to 1.5°C – a crucial target of the 2015 Paris Agreement – is impossible without phasing out fossil fuels. He noted a growing coalition of countries acknowledging this necessity.

Besides the fossil fuel roadmap, COP28 also saw agreements to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030. Despite limited financial commitments, progress was made in adaptation and finance, including operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund.

However, the UN chief stressed that these efforts are insufficient to deliver climate justice, especially to countries most at risk from climate impacts. Guterres called for a significant increase in finance, including funds for adaptation and loss, and urged reform of the international financial architecture to meet these challenges.

Simon Stiell, UN climate chief, echoed Guterres’ sentiments, noting that while significant strides were made at COP28, the initiatives announced in Dubai should be seen as a beginning, not an endpoint, in climate action. He emphasized that the Global Stocktake had revealed that progress while accelerating, is not fast enough to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. According to Stiell, the current trajectory points towards a nearly three degrees global warming, a scenario associated with extensive human suffering.

Stiell also expressed disappointment that COP28 did not entirely turn the page on fossil fuels but acknowledged that the conference marked the beginning of the end for these energy sources. He emphasized that the agreement reached in Dubai is a foundation for further action, not the ultimate goal.

COP28 saw several other significant developments, including the activation of a loss and damage fund designed to support climate-vulnerable developing countries, commitments to replenish the Green Climate Fund, announcements for the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDC) and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), increased financing from the World Bank for climate projects, and numerous declarations focusing on health, agriculture, and emissions reduction.

The next round of national climate action plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions, is due in 2025. These plans are expected to reflect significantly enhanced actions and commitments to combat climate change. Azerbaijan was announced as the host for COP29 in 2024, following Armenia’s withdrawal from its bid, and Brazil has offered to host COP30 in the Amazon in 2025.

Despite the applause that greeted the conference’s conclusion, not all participants were satisfied with the outcomes. Civil society representatives, climate activists, and delegations from small island developing countries expressed dissatisfaction with the incremental progress. Anne Rasmussen, the Samoan representative and lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), lamented the lack of substantial advancement, stating the need for an exponential change in actions and support.

Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, highlighted that COP28 had finally acknowledged fossil fuels as the primary culprits of the climate crisis. However, he criticized the resolution for containing loopholes that could benefit the fossil fuel industry and pointed out the hypocrisy of wealthy nations expanding fossil fuel operations while advocating for a green transition. Singh emphasized the need for robust financial support for developing countries to make an equitable transition to renewable energy and criticized the final outcomes for not compelling wealthy nations to fulfil their financial responsibilities in addressing climate impacts.