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COP28 CLIFFHANGER: 1st time agreement to phase out fossil fuels

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Image Credit: COP28 UAE official website

In the bustling city of Dubai, a daily drama of extremes played out at the COP28 conference, with history made literally 2 hours ago. A monumental decision emerged, signaling a radical departure from fossil fuels, whose presense had permeated a diesel-like stench among participants- intense and hard to remove from your clothes even after all the washing. For the first time in global governance, a unanimous agreement amongst 198 countries acknowledged for the first time in the history of COP, the need for “transitioning away from fossil fuels” and “accelerating action in this critical decade” to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 with the goal to pivot away from all forms of fossil fuels. This marked a watershed moment, ushering in an era of low-carbon fuels and catapulting the world into a swift and just transition.

President Dr. Sultan Al Jaber articulated the magnitude of this momentous decision: "We have delivered a paradigm shift that has the potential to redefine our economies."

It seems like a lot has been achieved during this COP28, inclusive of a quick and massive learning on the part of Dr. Sultan Al Jaber who just a week ago, standing at the pulpit as president of COP28, exclaimed there is “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to 1.5 degrees celsius. The Sultan also exclaimed that a phase-out of fossil fuels would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves”. As can be expected, social media memes exploded with disparaging remarks about a head of a large oil and gas firm and petro-state hosting a COP.

Image Credit: DW Environment & Green Humour

The lastest news out of Dubai seems to indicate that:

1) Western & Asian Playbooks are not the only path to consensus

2) Fossil Fuel lobbyists in thier record turnout who came to COP to lobby and arm twist ended up having to concede embarassingly in a COP hosted by a petro-state.

3) Even with OPEC rallying its members and oil producing allies to veto this landmark addition to the text, it is obvious that the very tool to break the will and back of the world's fossil fuel players must come from within (NGO's take note and update your plans.)

A news soundbite from Andrew Forrest known affectionately as Twiggy in Australia who also happens to be a billionaire founder, executive chairman and major shareholder of Fortescue that extracts iron ore had NGOs scratching thier heads as he openly and clearly criticised his peers in the energy industry.

Image Credit: Fortescue

“Over 3 billion people are exposed now. The time for excuses and prevarication is over. We have the solutions to phase out fossil fuel, and this is where we must go. If you say you can’t, then maybe you’re right — you can’t. But now’s the time for you to leave the stage and bring on someone who will. If you’re looking to put a head on a spike when lethal humidity really hits, well, start with mine. But don’t let off the other 999 who may not have acted as quickly as we have. I include myself in that because I’m not pointing the finger at everyone else, I’m saying I’m part of the problem too. But at least I’m changing.” - Andrew Forrest.

Amidst the exuberance of COP28's historic "textual" feat, a critical eye can be cast upon the track record of previous COP conferences. There's a sobering thought that mere statements and pledges without aligned actions has undermined the true essence of these gatherings. Reflecting on the narratives extracted from the preceding 27 COPs, there emerges a mix of promises, agreements, and progressive steps. Each conference, in its unique way, contributed to the evolving discourse on climate change. Yet, the real litmus test remains in the tangible actions and effective implementations post these global pronouncements.

The discourse at COP28 took a significant turn towards acknowledging the role of nuclear power in the transition—a shift that could mark the resurgence of a once-questioned energy source. Additionally, the contentious debate around phasing out fossil fuels reached a crucial tipping point, with a compromise to reduce consumption and production, albeit not a complete phase-out. At COP27, Ocean Purpose Project attended multiple nuclear booths and heard a lot of the arguements for and against this form of energy.

The spotlight also turned towards addressing climate impacts, notably with the creation of funds for loss and damage, and accelerated funding for adaptation. However, the focus on carbon dioxide removal technologies seemed relatively subdued, considering their pivotal role in rebalancing our planet's equilibrium.

The conversation at COP28 wasn't confined to mere policies; it expanded to include the realm of food and agriculture. A groundbreaking declaration recognized the imperative to build sustainable agricultural practices and resilient food systems, acknowledging the vulnerability of farmers to climate change's stark realities.

Optimism soared as practical discussions and pragmatic solutions took center stage. The global stocktake initiative emerged as a pragmatic approach to assess and recalibrate countries' climate actions. There was a resounding call for collaboration and investment in sustainable food production, offering hope for a more resilient future in agriculture.

Image Credit: Debt Justice

“Rich countries have once again shirked their responsibility and passed the buck onto countries who have done the least to create the climate crisis. COP28 will leave a legacy of a deepening debt crisis, as lower income countries receive inadequate and loan-based climate finance. Without urgent debt cancellation and rich countries significantly scaling up public, grant-based climate finance, it will be impossible for lower income countries to transition to sustainable renewable energy.” - Tess Woolfenden, Senior Policy Officer, Debt Justice UK 

Image Credit: COP28 Singapore Pavillion

Singapore presented at COP28 it's sustainable finance initiatives, signing a groundbreaking carbon credit transfer pact with Papua New Guinea, staking a claim as a carbon credit development hub despite clear challenges in project origination and more importantly set a clear narrative for the curbing of "greenwashing risks" with a new taxonomy aimed at holding Asia (and Singapore) accountable.

Key Takeaways at the COP28 Singapore Pavillion included:

  1. Emissions Offsetting: Starting in 2024, Singapore's high emitters can offset 5% of taxable emissions using credits from Papua New Guinea, aligning with Paris Agreement principles.

  2. Avoiding Double Counting: The agreement ensures Papua New Guinea's emissions reductions aren't counted twice, facilitating a corresponding adjustment to prevent duplicate climate impact.

  3. Unique Provisions: Papua New Guinea commits to canceling 2% of initial carbon credits, contributing directly to global emission reductions, highlighting a genuine climate commitment.

  4. Strategic Collaboration: Singapore’s National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) collaborates with Gold Standard and Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard, developing a playbook to maximize carbon credit mechanisms by mid-2024.

  5. Green Finance Focus: Singapore implements criteria for financial institutions, ensuring a gradual shift of transition activities towards net-zero emissions, curbing 'greenwashing' risks.

  6. Taxonomy Launch: The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) introduced the Singapore-Asia Taxonomy at COP28, setting standards for sustainable finance, enhancing the region’s climate alignment.

Singapore’s pact with Papua New Guinea marks a crucial step in global climate action, showcasing the need for Singapore to emphasize the power of collaboration and strategic alliances.

Image Credit: Reuters, Protests against climate and health crisis as well as calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and youth Activist Licypriya Kangujam who stepped on stage to protest fossil fuels at COP28 in Dubai only to get pulled off stage by authorities

As the caterers and events teams come to dismantle COP28, it's important and vital to recognise that an Arab nation pulled off what noone had done before, a historic agreement was sealed, promising a transition away from fossil fuels by 2050 and a tripling of global renewable energy capacity by 2030. It was also important to realise that not all youth who attended COP28 had thier voices heard- especially those employing thier voice outside of government sanctioned briefs.

The true success of COP28 lies not in the text but in its execution. The challenge ahead is for nations to translate these commitments into tangible actions, reflecting the true spirit of the agreement. As each delegation makes thier way back home with a sense of achievement, it might be important to remember that once it's written- the responsibility to execute on promises made or kick the can down the road is now indelibly a part of history. History doesn't remember the selfie at the COP28 flags but remembers the failed promises, the time to start work begins NOW.

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