Does COP28 Signal the End of the Fossil Fuel Era?

Representatives of almost 200 countries met in Dubai, a city in the petrostate of the United Arab Emirates, in December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). The agreement included a commitment for the first time to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems.

“Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell in his closing speech.

The global stocktake, which the UN calls the “central outcome of COP28,” calls on the following actions regarding fossil fuels:

  • Accelerating efforts to phase down unabated coal power or coal produced without carbon capture and storage.
  • Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Phasing out other measures that slow the transition from fossil fuels in energy systems.

Is this enough to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius, the threshold the Paris Agreement set in 2015?

The Fossil Fuel Loopholes

Crafted in Dubai, a petrostate, environmentalists blasted the agreement. The plan lacks “specific, measurable, and time-bound steps,” according to a Truthout article. It also did not call for a phase-out of oil, gas, and coal while containing loopholes that allow the fossil fuel industry to continue accelerating.

Agreeing to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems is a climate pledge that goes beyond previous agreements. However, it is a non-legally binding promise and will not keep the world from bypassing 1.5 C. It will not stop rich countries from failing to commit to climate action. President Joe Biden’s campaign climate change promises serve as a good example. Since entering office, his actions have been far short of what is needed to form a robust climate action plan.

The agreement calls for accelerating “efforts toward the phasing-down of unabated coal power.” Previous climate summits used similar language. Action is needed to limit new coal-fired power plants instead of countries that pledge to reduce coal but still construct new power plants. China, for example, pledged to reduce its use of coal while building new coal-fired power plants. The language of the agreement is also problematic. The term unabated is code for doing nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Petrostate Pushback

Petrostates did not want COP28 to include the phase-out of fossil fuels. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) asked member countries to leave out any proposal hindering fossil fuel production, urging them to “proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy, i.e., fossil fuels rather than emissions.” COP28 justifies the continued use of fossil fuels, stating that it “recognizes that transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security.”

“This agreement contains major industry escape hatches for disastrous gas expansion, plastics proliferation, and dangerous climate scams like carbon capture and storage,” said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It also fails to offer both the needed financial support to developing countries and meaningful commitment from rich countries to move first. Getting ‘fossil fuels’ into the final decision is a win in process, but not in the practical fight for survival of life on Earth.”

Holding the summits in petro-states sets a bad precedent. NPR reported that the UAE is working to increase its oil production “by a million barrels per day by 2027.” The UAE is one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers.

A Summit in a Genocidal Petrostate Dictatorship

The UN Climate Change Conference agreed that Azerbaijan will host the summit in 2024.

Azerbaijan is a genocidal petro-state run by a dictator. The country’s oil and gas industry finances a dictatorship that represses its people while its military frequently crosses the border and attacks Armenia.

In September 2020, Azerbaijan bombarded Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), an ancient Armenian region, with cluster munitions for 44 days. The Republic of Artsakh conceded over half of its land to stop the war. Three years later, in September 2023, Azerbaijan again attacked Artsakh after blocking the only road leading from Artsakh to Armenian for nine months, thus starving the people of Artsakh.

Azerbaijan dropped white phosphorus on the forests of Artsakh, as video evidence shows. The white phosphorus drones dropped on Artsakh amounts to ecocide. The Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman noted on November 3 that 4485 acres of forest area in Artsakh had burned, “but fires continue in various areas, and there is a tendency for rapid growth.” The Ombudsman characterized the fires as an “environmental catastrophe, which undermines the environmental security in the region and contains long-term dangerous consequences for the life and health of the people of Artsakh.”

Primeval forests in Artsakh and Armenia contain a vast biodiversity unseen in the rest of the Caucasus region. Critically endangered species such as the Persian leopard and the Armenian mouflon are spotted there. Only about eight to 13 individuals of the Persian leopard remain in the region. Some of the oldest juniper forests remaining in Armenia are in the region.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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