Takeaways from COP28: What does the climate deal say?

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Nearly 200 countries agreed to a new climate deal at the COP28 talks in Dubai on Wednesday, after two weeks of negotiations characterized by controversy and bitter divisions over the future of fossil fuels.

The decision has been called historic, with some experts declaring that it signals the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. Others say it’s undermined by a “litany of loopholes.”

Here’s why the final agreement is dividing opinion.

What’s in the climate deal?

The agreement marks the first time the annual UN meeting has asked countries to move away from fossil fuels — the main driver of the climate crisis.

The text of the agreement “calls on” countries to “contribute” to global efforts to reduce carbon pollution. It lists a menu of actions they can take, including “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems … accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050.”

What the agreement doesn’t do is require a “phase-out” of fossil fuels. That ambitious language was supported by more than 100 countries, including the United States and European Union, but was fiercely opposed by fossil fuel states such as Saudi Arabia.

The agreement also calls for a tripling of renewable energy capacity and a doubling of energy efficiency, both by 2030.

Countries are also being asked to have detailed adaptation plans in place by 2025, to show how they intend to deal with the current and future impacts of the escalating climate crisis.

The agreement also acknowledges the need for trillions of dollars of funding to flow from rich countries to poorer, climate vulnerable ones, to help them adapt climate change and transition to renewable energy. But there are no requirements in the deal for wealthy countries to give more.

What are the loopholes?

The agreement contains a “litany of loopholes” which could “take us backward rather than forward,” Anne Rasmussen, the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, said in a speech Wednesday.

Those loopholes refer to the option for countries to accelerate zero- and low-carbon technologies, including carbon capture and storage – a set of techniques that are still being developed with the aim of removing carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

Many scientists and other experts have said that carbon capture is unproven at scale and a distraction from policies to cut fossil fuel use, potentially giving license to polluters to carry on burning fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency sees a limited role for carbon capture in energy-hungry sectors such as steelmaking, which can’t yet be effectively powered by renewables like wind and solar.

Another “loophole” that has angered some countries and climate experts is the agreement’s recognition of a continued role for “transitional fuels” — largely interpreted to mean methane gas, a planet-heating fossil fuel.

What are people saying about the agreement?

Several climate negotiators and international groups called the final text historic and significant, while also being careful to say it does not go far enough or fast enough to rein in the climate crisis.

“The message coming out of this COP is we are moving away from fossil fuels,” US climate envoy John Kerry told reporters at a Wednesday press conference. While he acknowledged the final agreement represented a compromise, he called it a success and a vindication of multilateralism.

“We’re not turning back,” he added.

Other observers noted the text gives leeway to fossil fuel producers.

The draft “sends a signal that the fossil industry’s days are numbered,” Teresa Anderson, global climate lead at ActionAid, said in a statement. But, she added, it still contains “offers several gifts to the greenwashers, with mentions of carbon capture and storage, so-called transition fuels, nuclear power and carbon markets.”

What else came out of COP28?

The first day of COP28 opened with a surprise agreement to adopt a climate damage fund that was the result of decades of hard-fought negotiations.

Many countries, including COP28 host country the UAE, have since made pledges totaling more than $700 million to help nations hit hardest by the climate crisis deal with its consequences.

More announcements on climate finance were made during the rest of the summit; the UAE pledged to create a $30 billion climate finance fund and put $250 million into it by the end of the decade.

During Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to COP, the US pledged $3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund, the main finance vehicle to help developing nations adapt to the climate crisis and cut fossil fuel pollution.

Slashing emissions of methane, a powerful planet-warming gas, was also a sharp focus in the early days of the meeting. The US announced regulations to cut methane pollution from the nation’s huge oil and gas industry by nearly 80% through 2038.

And 50 major oil and gas companies, including Exxon and Saudi Aramco, signed a pledge to cut their methane emissions by the end of the decade, each committing to reduce their methane intensity by around 80% to 90% by 2030.

What comes next?

Now the deal is agreed, countries are required to update their national plans in 2025 to reduce emissions, detailing how much they’ll cut down on planet-warming pollution by 2035.

The US and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, have already jointly committed that their plans will cover all economy-wide climate pollution, and reduce emissions from non-CO2 gases such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons. That agreement marked a major commitment from China, in particular, which emits more carbon dioxide than the rest of the developed world combined.

Speaking Wednesday, Kerry said the two countries were actively encouraging the rest of the world’s nations to follow. But Kerry warned that more ambition was needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“That’s our challenge. Speed it up; bring it to scale – bigger, faster,” Kerry said.

Attention will now move to next year’s summit. After a fraught selection process, Azerbaijan, another major oil and gas producing nation, was tapped to host the 2024 talks.

This post appeared first on