World climate summit COP28 heralds a move away from fossil raw materials

Flags of the participating countries and the COP28 logo

At the world climate conference COP28, the participating states heralded the end of fossil fuels, but left loopholes. © COP28

At the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, the world took a small step closer to the goal of net zero emissions. The international community has heralded the end of fossil fuels, but has left room for interpretation. So only a “transition” away from oil and gas was decided, not an absolute exit. However, the goal is set. In order to achieve this, renewable energies should be expanded and carbon dioxide should be separated from exhaust gases and the atmosphere.

Over the past two weeks, delegates from 197 countries have fought for further measures against global warming at the UN climate conference COP28. The agreement came a day late; the participating states finally presented their final report on December 13th. In this, the countries have fulfilled their previously promised global inventory of where the world currently stands in terms of climate protection.

The long-term goal of the global community is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This means not emitting more greenhouse gases than are removed from the atmosphere. In the final document of COP28, the states now recognize that further measures than currently planned are necessary. The countries stated in writing that a reduction in emissions of 43 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2035 is necessary in order to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Transition from fossil fuels to renewables

The most sensitive question during the climate summit was how clearly participants would decide to move away from fossil fuels. In the final document they ultimately formulated a “transition”. “Low-carbon transition fuels” that cause comparatively few carbon dioxide emissions, such as liquefied natural gas, hydrogen and e-fuels as well as nuclear power, remain usable. The formulation also allows carbon dioxide to continue to be released from oil and gas as long as this CO2 is separated from exhaust gases and the atmosphere and stored again. However, the so-called CCS technologies that enable such CO2 capture currently only compensate for a fraction of the emissions.

According to the COP28 decision, the decision to move away from coal is to be further accelerated. This means that for the first time the final declaration literally states the desired move away from all fossil energy sources: oil, gas and coal. This shows that the global community was able to agree on this general goal. However, the final formulation leaves the countries room for interpretation and action as to how they achieve the goals they have set.

In order to replace fossil energy sources, renewables should also be massively expanded in the near future. The delegates decided to triple current renewable energy production by 2030 and double their energy efficiency. The decision to reduce existing subsidies for fossil fuels and reduce emissions from road traffic also made it into the final declaration. “This will change our world permanently,” says climate scientist Carl-Friedrich Schleussner from the Humboldt University in Berlin. However, climate economist Reimund Schwarze from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig criticizes the fact that there was a lot of talk about ambitions but too little about implementation. “This COP would only have been a success if the summit had come to a ruthless analysis of the widespread inaction,” he says.

Compensation for climate damage in particularly affected countries

Black and Schleussner say it is positive that the question of compensation payments for the countries hardest hit by climate impacts was less controversial this time than at previous climate conferences. At COP28, Germany and the United Arab Emirates each pledged to provide $100 million for the “Green Climate Fund”. Richer countries should actually fill this climate fund with $100 billion annually since 2020 in order to help poorer countries with the energy transition and climate adaptation. While the countries have not yet kept this promise, there now appear to be enough funds available for the time being.

Overall, experts are ambivalent about the decisions of COP28. They see positive trends, but also “loopholes and distracting pseudo-solutions” such as CCS technologies. They also warn that the promised measures must first be implemented in order to be effective. Theoretically, however, they could be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Climate activists and environmental organizations also see COP28 as a first, but clearly too small, step towards a necessary exit from fossil fuels. “It’s a compromise,” says climate scientist Schleussner. “But perhaps it is a compromise that will bring us closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement than many believe.”

Source: final declaration of the COP28Science Media Center, German Environmental Aid

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