After two weeks of negotiations, meeting governments at the 28th United Nations World Climate Conference (Cop28 in Dubai) have approved the first Global stocktake. That is, the document that every five years takes stock of what has been done to comply with the Paris Agreement, and indicates what needs to be done in the future to align with it.
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The “transition” allows the impasse between phase out and phase down to be overcome
If for days there was a clash over two options: phase out or phase down, with respect to fossil fuels, the representatives of the two hundred or so nations present at Cop28 found a new expression that managed to convince everyone. A compromise that translates into two words, “transition away.” A transition process, then, which is to lead the world to phase out coal, oil and gas. This is the first time, in any case, that fossil sources are openly mentioned in a UNFCCC document.
The choice to use the word “transition,” of course, can be interpreted in various ways. Certainly it does not firmly impose a “farewell,” but it probably appears to be something more than a “decrease.” Of course, everything – really everything – will depend on the speed and seriousness of that transition process.
The “heart” of the global stocktake is Article 28. Point A it confirms the indication to “triple the installed capacity of renewable energy and double the pace of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.” This is, perhaps, the least debated issue at Cop28, as it appeared from the first draft under discussion.
In point B, however, the focus is specifically on coal, and it is done with an objectively disappointing formula. Indeed, there is talk of “accelerating the decrease from unabated coal,” that is, coal without CO2 capture systems. Not even on the absolute most climate-damaging fossil source, therefore, has the world managed to establish the principle of a phase out. It has preferred to speak only of a decrease, and has even limited it, precisely, to unabated coal alone.
To point C the Global stocktake indicates the need to “accelerate global efforts to achieve zero net emission energy systems, using low or zero impact fuels well before or around mid-century.” In this sense, the not insignificant difference between “well before” and “around” cannot fail to jump out at you: two expressions that appear almost contradictory to each other.
The node of timing related to the transition from fossil fuels
Point D is the one on which the “square” has been found thanks to the choice of the locution “transition.” A “process of transition away from fossil fuels in our energy systems, accelerating in this crucial decade, in a fair, orderly and equitable manner, with a view to achieving zero emissions by 2050 and in line with science.” In this case, the mid-century limit appears more peremptory.
And, as mentioned, the phrase “transitioning away” will have to be interpreted stringently to prevent the process from being too slow. In this sense, “accelerating in this crucial decade” could give fossil producers more years to start the transition itself. Suffice it to say that the world will exhaust its carbon budget-the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we can still afford to disperse into the Earth’s atmosphere-just between now and 2030.
Point E then presents a list of technologies that are deemed necessary to make the transition itself. These include nuclear power. Along with hydrogen and carbon capture and storage systems, i.e., CO2 capture and storage facilities. despite the fact that these are still in their infancy and extremely expensive technologies.
Including nuclear power for the first time, stop “ineffective” fossil subsidies
Confirmed, in point F, the commitment to decreasing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that lingers less time in the atmosphere but has greater climate-changing power than CO2. Point g then refers to the need to accelerate the reduction of emissions from the transport sector.
Finally, an advance was made in item H. This is the only phase out to be included in the text, referring to the need to eliminate “ineffective” subsidies to fossil fuels. What precisely was meant by “ineffective” had been debated for a long time. Now the Global stocktake points out some stakes: these are those subsidies that do not allow the problem of energy poverty or the just transition to be addressed.
Is it therefore a good text or a disappointing agreement? To understand this will really have to wait for the proof of the facts. Indeed, everything will depend on how certain passages of the Global stocktake are interpreted.
Finance, the breakthrough that is not there
The G77-the alliance that includes more than 130 countries from across the global South-tried until the end. But in the end it didn’t come out on top. On the funding needed for both adaptation and the energy transition in Africa, Latin America and Asia, there is still no clarity. “If developed countries had been willing to commit to real finance and equity, [the agreement] could have been much stronger,” is the warm comment of Brandon Wu, finance campaigner for ActionAid. “The UNFCCC must not become yet another global governance regime that impedes the fiscal and policy space of developing countries. No finance, no future.”
The topic of finance resonated in the final speeches of many nations-from Colombia to Pakistan, Bolivia to Samoa. But none of these evidently had the strength to assert themselves. “The struggle continues,” Bogota Environment Minister Susana Muhamad commented during the plenary.
Reactions: exulted Cop28 president al-Jaber, disappointed Aosis group of island nations
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, according to agency reports, reiterated that the fossil era “must end. And it must do so with justice and equity. I would like to stress that the exit from fossils is inevitable, whether they want it or not. Hopefully, it will not come when it is too late. The world cannot afford delays, indecision or half-measures.” U.S. special envoy for climate, John Kerry, sees the agreement as “a reason to be optimistic.”
Decidedly different was the reaction of Samoa’s representative, who was applauded at length at Cop28 after expressing her reservations and concerns for small island nations vulnerable to climate change after the text was approved. “We have taken a step forward from the status quo, but what we need is exponential change,” said Anne Rasmussen, whose country chairs the Aosis group of island nations.
Brazil, which will host Cop30 in 2025, made an appeal to the rich world: “It is critical that developed countries take the reins of the transition to ending fossil fuels. They must ensure that developing countries have the necessary means at their disposal,” said Environment Minister Marina Silva.
NGOs cautious on global stocktake
“We consider the compromise reached as balanced and acceptable for this historical phase, characterized by strong international tensions that weigh on the transition process,” commented Italian Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin.
As easily imagined, Cop28 President al-Jaber spoke of a “historic decision to accelerate climate action.” While European Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra, just before entering the plenary assembly said, “For the first time in 30 years we can start the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.”
Mauro Albrizio, head of Legambiente’s Brussels office, observes from Dubai how the whole game “will be played on fossil sources. The clash is all there. The inclusion of carbon capture and storage among the technologies needed for the transition raises fears that for some people fossil fuels could be considered an element of the transition itself. This is contradictory to the premises, in which scientific evidence is cited that indicates that not even gas can be included in the pathway, since emissions will have to fall abruptly in the coming years: by 43 percent by 2030, compared to 2019 levels, if it is to stay within the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold.”
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First published in valori, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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