For the first time since countries began meeting three decades ago to address climate change, diplomats from nearly 200 countries have agreed to a global compact that explicitly calls for a “transition away from fossil fuels” such as oil, gas and coal that are dangerously warming the planet.
The comprehensive agreement, which comes during the hottest year in recorded history, was reached on Wednesday after two weeks of fierce debate at the UN climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. European leaders and many of the countries most vulnerable to climate-fueled extreme weather have been urging language calling for a complete “phase-out” of fossil fuels. But this proposal faced strong opposition from major oil exporters such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, as well as fast-developing countries such as India and Nigeria.
In the end, negotiators reached a compromise: The new agreement calls on countries to accelerate the global transition away from fossil fuels this decade “in a fair, orderly and equitable manner,” and to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere entirely by mid-century. It also calls on countries to triple the amount of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, installed worldwide by 2030 and to reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas.
While previous UN climate agreements have urged countries to reduce emissions, they have avoided explicitly referring to the phrase “fossil fuels”, even though burning oil, gas and coal is the main cause of global warming.
The new agreement is not legally binding and cannot, on its own, force any country to take action. However, many politicians, environmental activists and business leaders here have expressed hope that this will send a message to investors and policy makers that it is the beginning of the end for fossil fuels. Over the next two years, each country is supposed to submit a formal, detailed plan for how it intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions until 2035. Wednesday’s agreement aims to guide those plans.
“This sends a clear signal that the world is moving decisively to phase out fossil fuels, embrace renewable energy and efficiency, and address forest loss and degradation,” said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “It officially alerts the fossil fuel industry that its old business model is about to expire.”
The deal represents a diplomatic victory for the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich nation that hosted these talks at a sprawling exhibition center in Dubai under hazy skies just 11 miles from the world’s largest natural gas power plant. Sultan Al Jaber, the Emirati official and oil executive heading the talks, described the phase-out of fossil fuels as “inevitable” and staked his reputation on the ability to convince other petro-states to sign a major new climate change agreement.
“Throughout the night and the early hours of the morning, we worked collectively to reach a consensus,” Mr. Al Jaber said Wednesday morning to a room full of applauding negotiators. “I promised I would roll up my sleeves. We have the foundation to achieve transformational change.
It remains to be seen whether countries will follow through on implementing the agreement. Scientists say countries will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 43 percent this decade if they hope to limit total global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to previous levels. Scientists say that beyond that level, humans will struggle to adapt to rising sea levels, wildfires, severe storms and drought.
Previous climate agreements have often failed to encourage meaningful action. In 2021, countries concluded an agreement in Glasgow to “phase out” coal-fired power stations. But Britain agreed to build a new coal mine just a year later, and global coal use has since risen to record levels.
As bleary-eyed diplomats debated in all-night sessions in Dubai over the precise language they should use to recommend new action on climate change, they were forced to confront the challenges of the global transition away from fossil fuels in greater detail than ever before.
Saudi Arabia and oil and gas companies have said talks should focus on emissions, rather than fossil fuels themselves, arguing that technologies such as carbon capture and storage could trap and bury greenhouse gases from oil and gas and allow their continued use. Until now, countries have struggled to deploy this technology on a large scale.
But other world leaders have countered that the best way to cut emissions is to switch to cleaner forms of energy such as solar, wind or nuclear, while reserving carbon capture for rare situations where alternatives are not available. The final text calls on countries to accelerate carbon capture “particularly in sectors that are difficult to mitigate.” Some negotiators expressed concern that fossil fuel companies could exploit this language to continue releasing emissions at high rates while promising to capture emissions later.
Many African countries have strongly opposed the blanket call to phase out fossil fuels, arguing that Africa is responsible for only a small portion of emissions and should be allowed to exploit its large oil and gas reserves in order to grow their economies before switching to cleaner forms of energy. energy.
“Requiring Nigeria, or indeed Africa, to phase out fossil fuels is like asking us to stop breathing without life support,” said Isaac Salako, Nigeria’s environment minister. “This is unacceptable and not possible.”
Some climate activists have criticized richer emissions countries such as the United States, Europe and Japan for not providing enough financial support to low-income countries to help them transition away from fossil fuels. In places like Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, many countries face high interest rates that have made it difficult to finance new renewable energy projects.
The new agreement refers to the role that financing plays, but countries have agreed to address the issue in more detail at the next round of climate talks in Baku, Azerbaijan, next year.
“The text calls for a transition away from fossil fuels in this critical decade, but the transition is neither funded nor equitable,” said Mohamed Addo, director of the environmental group Power Shift Africa. “We still lack sufficient financing to help developing countries decarbonize, and there must be greater expectations from wealthy fossil fuel producers to phase out first.”
Max Perak, Lisa Friedman, Somini Sengupta And Jenny Gross He contributed reporting from Dubai.
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