Cop28 deal ‘falls short’ by not committing to full phase-out of fossil fuels, says Mary Robinson

Climate groups raise concerns over need to fund transition from dirty to clean energy in developing countries

The Cop28 agreement, while signalling the need to bring about the end of the fossil fuel era, falls short by failing to commit to a full fossil fuel phase-out, according to Mary Robinson.

But at a time of profound global challenges, “that nations have managed to salvage enough common ground in Dubai to keep the climate action process moving forward is notable”, the chairwoman of the Elders (a global leaders’ group set up by Nelson Mandela) said.

The Cop28 climate summit on Wednesday approved a deal that would for the first time push nations to transition away from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change.

The deal recognises “the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and calls for parties to contribute to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”


If keeping global temperature rise to a limit of 1.5 degrees “is our ‘north star’, and science our compass, we must swiftly phase out all fossil fuels to chart a course towards a liveable future”, the former president of Ireland said.

“To fail to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees has catastrophic implications for the most vulnerable communities and countries,” she warned.

Progress on loss and damage and tripling renewable energy demonstrated the vital role of multilateralism in addressing the climate crisis, she said. But transparency, equity and climate justice have been undermined in Dubai “by misleading language, false solutions and game-playing”.

The final agreement lacked the critical financial keys to unlock the trillions of dollars needed for any just transition,” she said. “Without providing the necessary means for implementation we doom those countries on the front lines of the climate emergency to failure.”

However, Eamon Ryan, Minister for the Environment and Climate, described the agreement as “historic”.

“It’s historic because for 30 years, the United Nations process hasn’t addressed the core of the problem on a day-today [basis] and [the deal] connects the two sides,” he told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

“And yes, it’s not perfect. But had we not got an agreement and delivered this package together, then that would have been a critically sad and difficult day for the world.

“At the centre, it also says it’s not just about transition away from fossil fuels. It’s also about building a new, renewable and energy-efficient future and critically changing the entire financial architecture in the world to make that happen everywhere in the world,” Mr Ryan said.

Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber described the deal approved by almost 200 countries as an “historic package” of measures which offered a “robust plan” to keep the [limiting global warmth] target of 1.5 degrees within reach.

“Many said this could not be done ... Everyone united, acted and delivered. We operationalised loss and damage and filled the fund. We delivered world first after world first.”

The chairwoman of the Climate Change Advisory Council, Marie Donnelly, described the deal as “a very positive thing”.

“If we hadn’t reached an agreement, we would be in total disarray,” she told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland. “I think ... we saw in Cop a very visible attempt by the fossil fuel industry to derail the process, to deny the science and of the real need for taking measures in the area of fossil fuels.

“And I think it’s a real success that that lobby was actually defeated as part of this process. So from my perspective, that is a real success,” Ms Donnelly said.

Friends of the Earth Ireland said the deal was not strong enough to deliver an end to fossil fuels without global people power.

The organisation cited the “litany of loopholes” identified by the small island states most vulnerable to climate change that it said could allow fossil-fuel interests continue business as usual unless people and groups demand the systems change needed.

In a statement, Jerry Mac Evilly, head of policy at the organisation, said: “The fossil fuel ‘elephant in the room’ has finally been put front and centre thanks to the tireless efforts of civil society around the world.

“Today’s agreement may have signalled the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era but it does not ensure it. We the people will have to do that.”

John Kerry, US climate change envoy, said of the agreement: “It is a document that reflects two years of work by all parties from every part of the globe ... while nobody here will see their views completely reflected, the fact is that this document sends a very strong signal to the world.”

Reacting to the deal, United Nations secretary general António Guterres said: “Whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase out is inevitable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.”

Former US vice-president Al Gore said: “The decision at Cop28 to finally recognise that the climate crisis is, at its heart, a fossil fuel crisis is an important milestone. But it is also the bare minimum we need and is long overdue. The influence of petrostates is still evident in the half measures and loopholes included in the final agreement.”

UN Climate Change director Simon Stiell said Cop28 delivered some genuine strides forward, including tripling renewables by 2030, agreeing a framework for a global goal on adaptation to prepare vulnerable countries for climate impacts and operationalising a landmark loss-and-damage fund with initial down payments.

“At every stage, climate action must stride forward side by side with human development, dignity and opportunity,” he added.

“There will be reams of analysis of all the initiatives announced here in Dubai. They are a climate-action lifeline, not a finish line,” Mr Stiell said. “Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”

Cop28 also needed to signal “a hard stop to humanity’s core climate problem – fossil fuels and their planet-burning pollution”, he said.

For the first time in three decades of climate negotiations the words fossil fuels have made it into a Cop outcome, said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa. “We are finally naming the elephant in the room. The genie is never going back into the bottle and future Cops will only turn the screws even more on dirty energy.

“Although we’re sending a strong signal with one hand, there’s still too many loopholes on unproven and expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage which fossil fuel interests will try and use to keep dirty energy on life support,” he added.

“The transition may be fast, the text calls for a transition away from fossil fuels in this critical decade. But the transition is not funded or fair. We’re still missing enough finance to help developing countries decarbonise and there needs to be greater expectation on rich fossil fuel producers to phase out first.

Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, said Cop28 had made history. “Despite immense pressure from oil and gas interests, high ambition countries courageously stood their ground and sealed the fate of fossil fuels. Now a critical test is whether far more finance is mobilised for developing countries to help make the energy transition possible,” she said.

“The outcome rightly recognises that countries will follow different pathways to shift away from fossil fuels, but the resounding message is that no nation can sit out the energy transition. The shift from fossil fuels must be fair and fast – and no one can be left behind.

“At Cop28, governments delivered a robust response to the Global Stocktake that can steer humanity towards a safer future for us all. To turn the decisions at these climate talks into reality, countries now need to incorporate strong targets into their national commitments to shift away from fossil fuels, scale up renewables, and much more.”

However Nikki Reisch, director Centre for International Environmental Law, said fossil fuel interests had too much of a say at Cop28. “Countries faced a choice between fossil fuels and life. And big polluters chose fossil fuels. Despite the unstoppable momentum and unequivocal science behind the need for a clear signal on the phase-out of oil, gas, and coal – free of loopholes or limitations – the text failed to deliver one.

“This failure was 30 years in the making, borne of a process that allows a select few countries to hold progress hostage and the fossil fuel industry not just to sit at the table, but to play host. Survival cannot depend on lowest-common-denominator outcomes,” she added.

Concern Worldwide cautiously welcomed elements of the agreement, while also expressing frustration at the lack of urgency and fairness shown by global leaders in responding to the needs of some of the world’s low income countries which are currently hardest hit by climate change.

“Contributions to the fund are voluntary and the $792 million announced to date represents just 0.2% of the estimated $400 billion bill for loss and damage globally,” Concern’s Advocacy Manager Sally Tyldesley said.  “We need to see high income countries deliver new funding for Loss and Damage, rather than move money around. This can’t just be an accounting exercise.”

Trocaire said the path to transitioning away from fossil fuels will be “at risk from the start because there is no agreement on how this energy transition will be funded and how historical polluters will take responsibility for ensuring that justice and equity is delivered for vulnerable communities and countries in the global South”.

“This transition is neither fast, fair nor funded. These were the litmus tests of success,” chief executive Caoimhe de Barra said. “This does not mean the COP is not worthwhile; we need more multilateralism, not less. But it is imperative that more countries join the high ambition ‘group’, alongside Ireland and highly vulnerable countries, and to make every day count from now until the next COP.”

Joab Okanda, Christian Aid’s senior climate adviser, said: “It is clear that the era of fossil fuels is coming to a close. We may not have driven the nail into the coffin here at Cop28 but the end is coming for dirty energy. But there is a gaping hole on finance to actually fund the transition from dirty to clean energy in developing countries. Without that, we risk the global shift being much slower.

“We now need to see rich countries following up their warm words about wanting a fossil fuel phase out with actions to actually bring it about and end their use of coal, oil and gas by the end of this decade.”

Rich fossil-fuel-using countries would need to decarbonise first, he said, with middle income countries going next and then the poorest countries after that.

“There’s also a huge gap in terms of finance to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change. That will now need to be the major focus at the next meeting in Baku in Azerbaijan next year. The desperate attempts of fossil fuel interests to prevent a stronger outcome in Dubai has revealed just how worried they are about the coming decarbonisation of the global economy,” he said.

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter