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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Dujardin

COP28: “Beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era” or further ignorance of the science behind climate change?



Written by: Charlotte Dujardin

Edited by: Kyra Odell


Between the role of the president of the Conference of Parties (COP) as the owner of an oil company, and the final agreement for the “beginning of the end” of fossil fuels, COP28 was filled with controversy. Looking at the history of fossil fuels at different Conferences of the Parties since 1995 alongside this year’s new developments makes me wonder what have been the different breakthroughs and setbacks concerning fossil fuels in international agreements and what makes this year’s agreement different. 

On one hand, the different agreements emerging from the COP have been extremely clear about the necessity to reduce carbon emissions. However, these have very rarely been linked to fossil fuels, primarily due to big lobbies from the fossil fuel industry. Within the 28 years since the first COP in 1995, Parties have assembled and discussed global climate change governance strategies without truly addressing its direct cause: fossil fuel consumption.

Indeed, from the Kyoto protocol in 1997 to recent developments of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the focus has been on the responsibility borne by different parts of the world and the way emissions would be regulated from country to country. Green (2021) discusses the way there has been a shift from “old” to “new” governance, with a “hierarchical model of governance” for the Kyoto protocol and a more “top-down” approach with the Paris Agreement. The Kyoto and Paris Agreements have also been marked by an opposition between Global North and Global South countries. This means that there has been great debate and focus on the political structure of climate governance, and less on the actual causes for the crisis and how it can be mitigated.

The different Conferences of the Parties have failed to address the true causes of the climate crisis such as fossil fuels, especially due to diplomatic conundrums and a focus on goals rather than sources. COPs have often been characterized by “deliberate foot dragging and re-stating of old positions” (Piggot, 2017), demonstrating their lack of efficiency to go forward and address the climate crisis. For example, the Paris Agreement puts forward numerous specific targets concerning carbon emissions and temperatures, but “fails to specify exactly how countries will attain these […] goals” (Piggot, 2017).

This illustrates why the numerous international agreements concerning the climate crisis have been silent about the link between fossil fuels and the crisis. 


On the other hand, this year has been deemed pivotal for the implementation of fossil fuel divestment in global governance for climate change, even considering the positions of its president, the major oil producer Sultan Al Jaber.

The controversial debut of the COP28 was mainly linked to a claim by Sultan Al Jaber that there was “‘no science’ indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to 1.5ºC” (Carrington, 2023). On top of that, the COP was held in the United Arab Emirates, which is projected to become the second biggest oil producer behind Saudi Arabia by 2050 (McGrath, 2023). Although it is important for these major players in the climate crisis to participate in these conferences, it can be debated whether this location and presidency was appropriate, especially considering the controversial turn it took even before the conference had started. This statement by such an important actor of the COP further reinforces denials of the causes of the crisis and possibly slowed down important processes.

Nevertheless, COP28 closed with an agreement that “signals the ‘beginning of the end’ of the fossil fuel era” (UN climate press release, 2023). This Conference was the first Global Stocktake, serving as a session of global assessment and adjustment of commitments since the Paris Agreement. For the first time, a COP “addressed fossil fuels” (European Parliament, 2023). Even though the text does not explicitly mention the word “phase-out,” this COP marks the beginning of a phase-out of fossil fuels, however controversial its presidency and location may have been. 

Needless to say, this transition cannot come without a complete rethinking of current ways of life, especially in the Global North, which are responsible for 92% of excess global CO2 emissions (Hickel, 2020). Agreeing to transition away from fossil fuels is an important step, but it needs to be met with concretization by countries and industries.


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References:

Carrington, D., & Stockton, B. (2023). Cop28 president says there is ‘no science’ behind demands for phase-out of fossil fuels. The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/dec/03/back-into-caves-cop28-president-dismisses-phase-out-of-fossil-fuels


COP28 climate talks agree on transitioning away from fossil fuels. (2023). News European Parliament . Retrieved 2024, from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20231205IPR15686/cop28-climate-talks-agree-on-transitioning-away-from-fossil-fuels. 


Green, J. F. (2021). Climate change governance - Past, Present and (Hopefully) Future. Global Governance in a World of Change, 109–129. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108915199.004


Hickel, J. (2020). Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: An equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary. The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(9). https://doi.org/10.1016/s2542-5196(20)30196-0


McGrath , M. (2023). Host country of COP28, UAE, to ramp up oil production, BBC learns. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-67513901. 


Piggot, G., Erickson, P., Lazarus, M., & van Asselt, H. (2017). Addressing fossil fuel production under the UNFCCC: Paris and beyond. Stockholm Environment Institute. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep02765


Hickel, J. (2020). Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: An equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary. The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(9). https://doi.org/10.1016/s2542-5196(20)30196-0



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