February 26, 2024

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At the COP28 climate summit, countries agree to move away from fossil fuels

At the COP28 climate summit, countries agree to move away from fossil fuels

For the first time since countries began meeting three decades ago to confront climate change, diplomats from nearly 200 countries participated Agreed to a global charter This explicitly calls for a “move away from fossil fuels” such as oil, gas and coal that are dangerously warming the planet.

The comprehensive agreement, which comes during the hottest year in recorded history, was reached on Wednesday after two weeks of fierce debate at the UN climate summit in Dubai. European leaders and many of the countries most vulnerable to climate-related disasters have been urging language calling for a complete “phase-out” of fossil fuels. But this proposal faced strong opposition from major oil exporters such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, as well as fast-developing countries such as India and Nigeria.

In the end, negotiators reached a compromise: The new agreement calls on countries to accelerate the global transition away from fossil fuels this decade “in a fair, orderly and equitable manner,” and to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere entirely by mid-century. It also calls on countries to triple the amount of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, installed worldwide by 2030 and to reduce emissions of methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, in the short term.

While previous UN climate agreements have urged countries to reduce emissions, they have avoided explicitly referring to the phrase “fossil fuels”, even though burning oil, gas and coal is the main cause of global warming.

“Humanity has finally done what is long overdue,” said Wopke Hoekstra, European Commissioner for Climate Action. “Thirty years – 30 years! – we have spent money to get to the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.”

The New Deal is not legally binding and cannot, on its own, force any country to act. However, many politicians, environmentalists and business leaders gathered in Dubai hoped it would send a message to investors and policy makers that the shift away from fossil fuels could not be stopped. Over the next two years, each country is supposed to submit a formal, detailed plan for how it intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions until 2035. Wednesday’s agreement aims to guide those plans.

“This is not a shift that will happen from one day to the next,” Susana Muhammad, Colombia’s environment minister, said this week. “Entire economies and societies depend on fossil fuels. Fossil capital will not disappear just because we made a decision here.” But she added that the agreement sends “a strong political message that this is the way.”

The deal represents a diplomatic victory for the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich nation that hosted these talks in a sprawling, glittering exhibition center in Dubai under hazy skies just 11 miles from the world’s largest natural gas power plant.

Sultan Al Jaber, the Emirati official and oil executive heading the talks, has faced complaints about conflicts of interest and survived early calls for his dismissal. A record number of fossil fuel lobbyists flooded the summit. Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the company run by Al Jaber, is investing at least $150 billion over the next five years to increase drilling operations.

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But Mr. Al Jaber also described the phase-out of fossil fuels as “inevitable” and staked his reputation on the ability to persuade other oil-producing countries to sign a major new climate agreement.

“Throughout the night and the early hours of the morning, we worked collectively to reach a consensus,” Al Jaber said Wednesday morning to a room full of applauding negotiators. “I promised I would roll up my sleeves. We have the foundation to achieve transformational change.

It remains to be seen whether countries will follow through on implementing the agreement. Scientists say countries will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 43 percent this decade if they hope to limit total global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with pre-industrial levels. Scientists say that beyond that level, humans may have difficulty adapting to rising sea levels, wildfires, severe storms and drought.

However, global fossil fuel emissions have risen to record levels this year, countries are currently on track to cut this pollution by less than 10% this decade, and the world has already warmed by more than 1.2 degrees Celsius. Many scientists say it is now unlikely that humanity will be able to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, although they add that countries should do everything they can to keep temperature rise as low as possible.

Representatives of small islands whose coasts and wells disappear under the rising seas It is filled with salt waterHe said the new climate agreement had “a series of loopholes” and was not enough to avert disaster.

“This process has failed us,” said Anne Rasmussen, Samoa’s chief negotiator, who complained that the deal was approved while a group of 39 small island nations were not present in the room. “The requested course correction was not secured.”

Previous climate agreements have often failed to encourage meaningful action. In 2021, countries concluded an agreement in Glasgow to “phase out” coal-fired power stations. But Britain approved a new coal mine only a year later and the global use of coal It has since risen to record levels.

Even as US and European negotiators pushed hard for a deal to limit the use of fossil fuels, environmentalists pointed out that US oil production was rising, while European countries were spending billions on new natural gas import terminals. Al-Masal in the middle of the war. in Ukraine.

US officials have talked up the fact that Congress recently approved hundreds of billions of dollars to adopt and manufacture clean energy technologies such as solar panels, electric vehicles and heat pumps that would help curb the world’s appetite for oil, coal and natural gas.

As bleary-eyed diplomats in Dubai argued in all-night sessions over the language used in the text, they were forced to grapple with the stark realities and challenges of the global transition away from fossil fuels in greater detail than ever before.

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Saudi Arabia and oil and gas companies have said talks should focus on emissions, rather than fossil fuels themselves, saying technologies such as carbon capture and storage could trap and bury greenhouse gases from oil and gas and allow their continued use. Until now, countries have struggled to deploy this technology on a large scale.

Other world leaders have responded that the best way to reduce emissions is to switch to cleaner forms of energy such as solar, wind or nuclear power, reserving carbon capture for rare situations where alternatives are not available.

The final text calls on countries to accelerate carbon capture “particularly in sectors that are difficult to mitigate.” But some negotiators expressed concern that fossil fuel companies could exploit this language to continue releasing emissions at high rates while promising to capture emissions later.

Some oil producers already see room for maneuver in the agreement. In a television interview after the summit, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister, said the agreement “buried the issue of gradual or gradual phase-out” of fossil fuels and instead “left space for countries to choose their own path.” He also insisted that Saudi oil exports would not be affected.

The final agreement also includes language recognizing that so-called transition fuels can play a role in the transition to clean energy and ensuring energy security. The “transition fuel” is widely seen as a symbol of natural gas, something that gas-producing countries such as Russia and Iran have called for. Some countries seeking to put an end to fossil fuels expressed regret over the inclusion of that language.

An earlier draft of the agreement had urged countries to stop issuing permits for new coal-fired power plants unless they could capture and bury carbon dioxide emissions. But countries such as China and India, which are still building huge new coal-fired plants to meet growing energy demand, have opposed overly stringent restrictions. Language about new coal plants has been removed from the final version.

Many African countries have strongly criticized the idea that all countries should reduce the use of fossil fuels at the same pace. They said that without external financial assistance, African countries will need to exploit their oil and gas reserves in order to become rich enough to finance the transition to clean energy.

“Requiring Nigeria, or indeed Africa, to phase out fossil fuels is like asking us to stop breathing without life support,” said Isaac Salako, Nigeria’s environment minister. “This is unacceptable and not possible.”

Some world leaders have criticized rich emitters such as the United States, Europe and Japan for failing to provide adequate financial support to low-income countries to help them transition away from fossil fuels. In places like Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, developing countries face high interest rates that have made it difficult to finance new renewable energy projects.

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The new agreement notes the importance of financing, but countries have agreed to address the issue at the next round of climate talks in Baku, Azerbaijan, next year.

“The text calls for a transition away from fossil fuels in this critical decade, but the transition is neither funded nor equitable,” said Mohamed Addo, director of the environmental group Power Shift Africa. “We still lack sufficient financing to help developing countries decarbonize, and there must be greater expectations from wealthy fossil fuel producers to phase out first.”

Meanwhile, wars and unrest elsewhere in the world have cast a shadow over climate talks, which have already been marked by sharp disagreements between countries. Traditionally, UN rules require every agreement at a climate summit to be approved by consensus, and any single country can thwart the consensus.

For weeks, diplomats struggled to agree even where to hold next year’s summit, because Russia continued to use its veto against Eastern European countries that criticized the invasion of Ukraine. Developing countries in the conference halls felt angry when the United States used its veto against a United Nations resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza.

After the agreement was reached on Wednesday, John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, said it showed that countries can still work together despite their sharp differences.

“In a world full of war in Ukraine and the Middle East and all the other challenges of a collapsing planet, this is the moment when multilateralism comes together and people take individual interests and try to define the common good,” Kerry said. . “It’s hard. It’s the hardest thing in diplomacy. It’s the hardest thing in politics.”

But there are still signs of continuing bitterness and mistrust. “Developed countries talk a lot about ambition in tackling the climate crisis when they stand in front of the media,” said Diego Pacheco, Bolivia’s chief negotiator. “But in the negotiating rooms of this conference, they are obstructing, creating distortions and confusion, and adding more complexity to all the issues that represent the priorities of developing countries.”

As workers dismantled coffee kiosks at the Dubai climate conference to make way for “Winter City,” a Santa-filled celebration set to open at the venue on Friday, many were already looking forward to the upcoming big climate meetings. Governments still need to start taking concrete steps to increase financing for clean energy, including a comprehensive reform of the World Bank and other international financial institutions.

“Champions of the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, whether small island states or major economies, have made the rest of the world realize that this transition cannot be stopped,” said Tom Evans, climate policy advisor at research organization E3G. “But this is just a small first step.”

Lisa Friedman, Somini Sengupta, Jenny Gross And Vivian Nerem Contributed to reports.