DUBAI – COP28 closed on Wednesday with a landmark Global Stocktake text that “calls on parties” to begin “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems”. The text was agreed by all parties at around midday Dubai time, following a long night of red-eyed negotiations.

This is a “truly consequential” text that signals “the beginning of the end of fossil fuels”, said Wopke Hoekstra, European Commissioner for Climate Action in Dubai. 

The text provides a “clear signal on the end of the fossil fuel era”, although there remains “room for improvement, particularly on equity and provision of finance”, said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Destination Zero, in Dubai. 

The text represents the first time that “fossil fuels” has made it into the cover text of a UN climate conference cover text, despite the burning of fossil fuels being by far the most significant contributor to anthropogenic climate change. 

The Global Stocktake is the main mechanism outlined in the Paris Agreement through which climate action is assessed. A synthesis report released ahead of COP28 detailed that the world remains well off track from meeting the ambitions of the Paris Agreement; COP28 was required to offer a response to the report agreed by all 198 parties to the UNFCCC. 

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Other significant parts of the final text – agreed after more than two weeks of fraught negotiations – include calls to triple renewable energy capacity globally and double the rate of energy efficiency, which had until now been a COP28 pledge agreed by 130 countries. 

The renewables target was labelled “by far the most important potential outcome from the meeting” by Lauri Myllyvirta from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, due to its ability to “open up space to massively increase financing for renewables in developing countries”. 

However, the inclusion of language on rolling out nuclear, carbon capture and storage technology, and a recognition that “transitional fuels” – meaning natural gas – “can play a role in facilitating the energy transition” has been criticised by green groups.

This language is a “dangerous distraction”, said Fernanda Carvalho, global climate and energy policy lead at charity the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

Carvalho added: “For a liveable planet we need a full phase out of all fossil fuels and the transition to a renewable energy future.” In addition, the text fails to call on Parties to set targets for reducing emissions from methane.

There was also some confusion as COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber announced the text as being agreed to at the start of the closing plenary, and not after country representatives had offered commentary on how they perceived the text.

“We didn’t want to interrupt the standing ovation – but we are confused. It seems you just gavelled the decision and the small island states were not in the room”, said Anne Rasmussen, the representative from Samoa, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Signalling disappointment with the outcome, she added: “It is not enough to reference the science and then ignore what the science is telling us we should do.

“We have come to the conclusion that the course correction we have needed has not been secured.”

Also speaking at the plenary, US climate envoy John Kerry said that the final documents are: “Cause for optimism, cause for gratitude and cause for some significant congratulations to everybody here”’, noting that “for the first time, in the history of our regime, the decision supported by all nations of the world calls for transitioning away from fossil fuels”. 

Diego Pacheco, spokesperson for Bolivia, along with the Like-Minded Developing Countries bloc, expressed dismay that developed countries “have not decided to take on the lead on the climate crisis or change their lifestyles”. 

“We are once again the victims of neocolonialism, which is carbon colonialism”, he said, adding: “We need a paradigm shift.”

In his final remarks delivered at the Closing Plenary, President Al Jaber lauded the “enhanced, balanced and historic package to accelerate climate action” set out in Dubai. 

He finished by issuing a final call to action: “An agreement is only as good as its implementation… We must take the steps necessary to turn this agreement into tangible action.”