Leaders Reach Historic Agreement to Address Fossil Fuels at COP28, But Richer Nations Fail to Commit to Robust Climate Finance

Statements by Drs. Rachel Cleetus and Delta Merner, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Dec 13, 2023

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Today world leaders at the United Nations annual climate talks, COP28, adopted the UAE Consensus, which includes the first-ever iteration of the Global Stocktake (GST). According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the agreement represents a critical step forward in addressing fossil fuels, the root cause of climate change, but still falls significantly short in its considerations of finance and equity provisions needed to ensure a just transition to clean energy and climate resilience around the world.

Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, the policy director and a lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at UCS.

“The COP28 agreement marks a historic recognition from world leaders that a sharp turn away from fossil fuels toward clean energy in this critical decade and beyond, aligned with the science, is essential to meet our climate goals. Three decades after the first United Nations annual climate talks, this is a long overdue step, albeit with some loopholes, to address the root cause and primary driver of the climate crisis: fossil fuels.

“However, the finance and equity provisions of the decision are highly insufficient and must be improved in the time ahead to ensure low- and middle-income countries can transition to clean energy and close the energy poverty gap. As the world puts these collective goals into action, richer nations like the United States have a responsibility to take the lead in quickly moving away from fossil fuels and providing scaled-up climate finance for developing countries. Without that, we will not be able to succeed in phasing out fossil fuels—which remains essential —nor will we deliver justice for people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

“To live up to this agreement, countries that are major fossil fuel producers and exporters, like the United States, must quickly taper down new or expanded fossil fuel production and end fossil fuel subsidies. This is a necessary complement to valuable policies like the US’ Inflation Reduction Act aimed at accelerating clean energy momentum domestically. Policymakers must also stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry's influence on domestic and international climate policy.

“This COP has shown us that nations and people who are committed to upholding science and equity have the power to stand up to fossil fuel interests and petrostates who sought to block a strong agreement here in Dubai. That same power must be deployed to push for the domestic policies that will be needed to live up to global climate goals.

“In Dubai, nations also agreed to a long-awaited step of operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund for countries coping with extreme climate impacts, and a global framework for adaptation aimed at helping countries build climate resilience. Now, the fund must be resourced quickly and robustly so that climate-vulnerable low and middle-income countries can get the support they deserve for coping with the extreme impacts of climate change caused by heat-trapping emissions primarily from wealthier countries. Meanwhile, the adaptation framework falls well short of what’s needed, lacking specific quantified targets and with very weak funding commitments.

“Across the board, wealthy nations, including the United States, who have contributed the most to heat-trapping emissions, have left low- and middle-income countries in the lurch when it comes to the provision of funding. With lives, livelihoods, human rights, cultural heritage and critical ecosystems at stake, this glaring omission is unconscionable and must be quickly remedied.”

Below is a statement by Dr. Delta Merner, lead scientist at the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at UCS.

“The influence of the fossil fuel industry at COP28 was unmistakable, yet pressure from small island nations and others has led to this historic moment: countries have finally agreed to address all fossil fuels. The relentless presence of industry and petrostate interests ultimately weakened the final agreement, as some leaders echoed industry rhetoric and disinformation. This dynamic is not a novelty; rather, it underscores the enduring power of the fossil fuel sector. The final agreement includes loopholes, such as a call for the acceleration of technologies designed to prolong the use of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel influence reached new heights this year with a record-setting number of industry lobbyists attending the talks, diluting meaningful progress at COP28. Although COP28 saw progress with new UN reporting rules that require all participants to declare their affiliation, merely bringing the industry out of the shadows is not enough. As nations now turn toward implementing this important agreement and continue the fight for equitable finance and adaptation, we must ensure that the fossil fuel industry doesn’t get in the way with their usual tactics of obstruction, delay, and greenwashing.

As we continue to do the necessary work to confront the pervasive influence of the fossil fuel industry domestically and internationally, we must use all levels of accountability available to us, including litigation. By leveraging legal avenues, we can challenge the industry's disinformation and evasion of responsibility, striving for a future where accountability and justice prevail over the enduring power of the fossil fuel sector.

The tide is turning against fossil fuels, and that was palpable at COP28. Public opinion is shifting, with more and more people demanding real action on climate change. The fossil fuel industry is on the wrong side of history, pursuing profits over planet and people—and they should know it.”