Delegates at UN climate talks in Dubai agree to ‘transition away’ from planet-warming fossil fuels

Guilbeault hails ‘monumental’ COP28 deal, others warn of ‘dangerous distractions.’

climate talks

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.

“Humanity has finally done what is long, long, long overdue,” Wopke Hoekstra, European Union commissioner for climate action, said. After nearly 30 years of talking about carbon pollution, climate negotiators in a key document explicitly took aim at what’s trapping the heat: the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

Within minutes of opening Wednesday’s session, COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber gaveled approval of the central document — the global stocktake that says how off-track the world is on climate and how to get back on — 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,” said al-Jaber, who’s also CEO of the UAE’s oil company.

Canada’s environment minister is hailing what he calls the “monumental” outcome of the United Nations climate summit.

Minister Steven Guilbeault says Canada played a leading role in solidifying the deal agreed to on Wednesday to close out COP28.

The language of the agreement is stronger than a draft floated earlier in the week, though many warned it was undermined by loopholes.

Liz McDowell, senior campaigns director with environmental group, says the deal is weakened by “dangerous distractions,” such as leaving the door open to so-called transitional fuels, and failing to commit wealthy countries to finance the energy transition.

The federal government made several announcements during the two-week summit, unveiling its emissions cap for the oil and gas industry and draft regulations to drastically cut methane emissions from the sector.

United Nations Climate Secretary Simon Stiell told delegates their efforts were “needed to signal a hard stop to humanity’s core climate problem: fossil fuels and that planet-burning pollution. Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end.”

Stiell cautioned people that what they adopted was a “climate action lifeline, not a finish line.”

The new deal had been floated early Wednesday and was stronger than a draft proposed days earlier, but had loopholes that upset critics. Analysts and delegates wondered if there was going to be a floor fight over details, but al-Jaber acted quickly, not giving critics a chance to even clear their throats.

Several minutes later, Samoa’s lead delegate Anne Rasmussen, on behalf of small island nations, complained that they weren’t even in the room when al-Jaber said the deal was done. She said that “the course correction that is needed has not been secured,” with the deal representing business-as-usual instead of exponential emissions-cutting efforts. She said the deal could “potentially take us backward rather than forward.”

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When Rasmussen finished, delegates whooped, applauded and stood, as al-Jaber frowned and then eventually joined the standing ovation that stretched longer than his plaudits. Marshall Islands delegates hugged and cried.

Bolivia blasted the agreement as a new form of colonialism. But there was more self-congratulations Wednesday than flagellations.

“I am in awe of the spirit of cooperation that has brought everybody together,” United States Special Envoy John Kerry said. He said it shows that multilateralism can still work despite what the globe sees with wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. “This document sends very strong messages to the world.”

The deal also includes a call for tripling the use of renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency. Earlier in the talks, the 28th Conference of the Parties, or COP28, adopted a special fund for poor nations hurt by climate change and nations put nearly $800 million in the fund.

“Many, many people here would have liked clearer language” on getting rid of fossil fuels, Kerry said. But he said it’s a compromise.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, whose OPEC threatened to torpedo an agreement, hailed the deal as a success.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has targeted oil companies and their massive profits, also celebrated, saying in a statement that “for the first time, the outcome recognizes the need to transition away from fossil fuels.”

“The era of fossil fuels must end – and it must end with justice and equity,” he said.

The deal doesn’t go so far as to seek a “phase-out” of fossil fuels, which more than 100 nations, like small island states and European 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.”

The deal says that the transition would be done 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.

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, al-Jaber presented delegates from nearly 200 nations a new document just after sunrise.

It was 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.

“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.

Several activists highlighted what they considered loopholes.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize winning climate activist, said while it is an important milestone “to finally recognize that the climate crisis is at its heart a fossil fuel crisis,” he called the deal “the bare minimum” with “half measures and loopholes.”

“Whether this is a turning point that truly marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era depends on the actions that come next,” Gore said.

Story by Seth Borenstein, David Keyton, Jamey Keaten And Sibi Arasu with contributions from Jon Gambrell, Malak Harb and Bassam Hatoum contributed to this report.

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