© Fatoumata Diabate

COP28: Hopes of a Rapid Phase-out of Fossil Fuels Have Been Dampened

13. December 2023
© Fatoumata Diabate

The COP28 climate conference began with a bang when the Loss and Damage Fund was adopted right at the start. But the hopes of many countries were soon dampened.

"For the first time, there was an open debate about moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy and the necessary socio-ecological transformation. However, the states did not manage to turn this debate into a historic decision," says Christina Aebischer, a climate expert at the NGO Helvetas.

The global community is calling for a clear move away from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. However, the phase-out previously called for by over 100 countries does not appear in the final text.

For Helvetas, the Swiss organization for development cooperation and humanitarian aid, the final declaration of COP28 is therefore a disappointment.

Death sentence for island states

2023 is the warmest year since records began. Storms are getting stronger and droughts longer, and we have almost reached the 1.5°C warming limit. There is an urgent need for action.

Nevertheless, the text on energy is a "death sentence," as the governments of the group of small island states put it. It advocates solutions that are too weak to accelerate the transition and keep the 1.5°C limit within reach.

"While countries have agreed to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030, this must be accompanied by a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels," emphasized Christina Aebischer. The new language on phasing out the use of fossil fuels is a first small step in this direction. However, there is an urgent need to set clear targets and ensure a fair and just transition.

Wrong solutions in the energy sector

The final text opens the door to the wrong solutions. While the enormous potential of an energy supply based on solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy has not yet been fully exploited, high-risk solutions were propagated at this COP28.

These include nuclear energy, for example. Nuclear energy is not an alternative; the risks are known and the waste problem is unresolved, the technology is too expensive and the construction of new power plants takes too long. Neither is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide – a little-researched and very expensive technology.

Finally, the impact of carbon markets and offsetting rules in other countries are neglected in the final text. This will lead to trade practices that will not only dilute the 1.5 degree target, but also damage the ecosystems and livelihoods of millions of people. Offsetting greenhouse gas reductions in poor countries is not an equivalent substitute for national emission reductions.

Just transition for developing countries

Developing countries must receive appropriate financial support in the transition process to renewable energies and energy efficiency. They must be compensated for "leaving their fossil fuels in the ground." A just transition means departing from the model of past centuries, in which industrialized countries consumed fossil fuels and became rich, and now want to tell poor countries not to exploit their resources.

Adaptation has received neither visibility or expected resources

The results of the conference are also inadequate in the area of "adaptation." To enable the poorest and most vulnerable countries to adapt to the negative consequences of global warming, the financing of adaptation by industrialized countries must be doubled and the Adaptation Fund must be strengthened.

Financing for adaptation must come from public funds and be based on grants rather than loans. These funds should be provided in addition to the development aid budgets of the industrialized countries.

Loss and Damage Fund: What now?

The inability to mitigate climate change and adapt to the negative consequences of climate change is leading to an increase in loss and damage. A new Loss and Damage Fund has been set up. However, it is not known how the fund will ultimately be financed and how the board will be composed – an important decision to ensure direct access to the fund by vulnerable communities. It is important that the fund is financed from new sources based on the polluter pays principle, with participation from those who caused the crisis. In addition to financial resources, technical support is also needed.

Never before in history has the business lobby for coal, oil and gas, as well as the big food companies and the carbon markets, been so strongly represented as at this year's climate conference. The COP threatens to become a forum for making deals.

Finally, it must be emphasized that COPs are becoming too large and smaller, poorer and more vulnerable nations will not be able to host the chair and thus claim their leadership space. There is an urgent need to change this situation.