Delegates at UN Climate Talks in Dubai Agree to ‘Transition Away’ from Planet-warming Fossil Fuels

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, second from left, claps after passing the global stocktake at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — United Nations climate negotiators directed the world on Wednesday to transition away from planet-warming fossil fuels in a move the talks chief called historic, despite critics worries about loopholes.

Within minutes of opening Wednesday’s session, COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber gaveled approval of the central document – the global stocktake that says how far off-track the world is from its climate-fighting goals and how it is going to get back on track – without asking for comments. Delegates stood and hugged each other.

“It is a plan that is led by the science,’’ al-Jaber said. “It is an enhanced, balanced but make no mistake, a historic package to accelerate climate action. It is the UAE consensus.”

“We have language on fossil fuel In our final agreement for the first time ever,” al-Jaber, CEO of the UAE’s oil company.

The new deal had been floated early Wednesday after a global rallying cry stronger than proposed days earlier, but with loopholes that upset critics.

The deal doesn’t go so far as to seek a “phase-out” of fossil fuels, which more than 100 nations had pleaded for. Instead, it calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade.”

That transition would be in a way that gets the world to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and follows the dictates of climate science. It projects a world peaking its ever-growing carbon pollution by the year 2025 to reach its agreed-upon threshold, but gives wiggle room to individual nations like China to peak later.

“The world is burning, we need to act now,” said Ireland Environment Minister Eamon Ryan.

Intensive sessions with all sorts of delegates went well into the small hours of Wednesday morning after the conference presidency’s initial document angered many countries by avoiding decisive calls for action on curbing warming. Then, the United Arab Emirates-led presidency presented delegates from nearly 200 nations a new central document — called the global stocktake — just after sunrise.

It’s the third version presented in about two weeks and the word “oil” does not appear anywhere in the 21-page document, but “fossil fuels” appears twice.

The Alliance of Small Island States said in a statement that the text ”is incremental and not transformational. We see a litany of loopholes in this text that are a major concern to us.”

“We needed a global signal to address fossil fuels. This is the first time in 28 years that countries are forced to deal with fossil fuels,” Center for Biological Diversity energy justice director Jean Su told The Associated Press. “So that is a general win. But the actual details in this are severely flawed.”

“The problem with the text is that it still includes cavernous loopholes that allow the United States and other fossil fuel producing countries to keep going on their expansion of fossil fuels,” Su said. “There’s a pretty deadly, fatal flaw in the text, which allows for transitional fuels to continue” which is a code word for natural gas that also emits carbon pollution.