On November 28 through December 13, 2023, Dubai (United Arab Emirates) fostered an annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Amidst the hottest year on the observation record, this year, the COP28 was marked as a major event in terms of active involvement of civil society and hot debates on previously unresolved issues, such as adaptation policies, so-called Loss and Damage Funds for developing countries suffering from the consequences and disasters of the rapidly changing climate. The discussions lasted longer than expected, and the final conference statement was released only on December 13, after a long night of debates between the delegates. It was nicknamed "the beginning of the end" of the fossil-fuel era, although some activists remain unsatisfied with vague expressions to react to a climate emergency.

We recommend you read the full paper released by the UNFCCC1, but if you do not have time to do that, UNICASE will shortly explain developments of the COP28 in this brief the landmark.

As a result, the final statement defined the need to"transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, adopting a just, orderly, and equitable approach and expediting action throughout this crucial decade. The objective is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, aligning with scientific recommendations."

Fossil fuels: phase out, phase down or transition away from?

The Dubai meeting was the first-ever COP in history that mentioned fossil fuels as the linking cause, which has to be neglected to mitigate the effects of human-induced climate change. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports (which serve as a scientific basis for the UNFCCC policy-making) mentioned that the use of fossil fuels is the major reason for the greenhouse effect causing human-induced climate change, legally, there has not yet been such clarification in the sources of international climate change law. Even though, at a certain point, it seemed that the agreement on the need to move away from fossil-fuel dependence would not happen as the delegates to the Conference could not find common ground for the correct expression, COP28 remarkably achieved the consensus. A significant conflict of interests was surrounding the political debate between the "phase-out" (meaning a radical elimination of fossil fuels) or "phase down" (meaning a more steady decline of the use of fossil fuels), with arguments from different stakeholders of various backgrounds. It took three drafts to finalise the statement.

The text finalised in Dubai acknowledges the imperative for significant, swift, and continual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions aligned with the 1.5 °C target. Still, it does not aim all measures to fulfil it. It urges Parties to contribute to global initiatives actively, considering the Paris Agreement and their unique national circumstances, pathways, and approaches. COP experts are scrutinising terminology, noting the nuanced shift from "calls on" to "transitioning away," deviating from the initial preference for a stronger "phase-out" option, along with the proposed time frame; moreover, some wording creates loopholes and scapegoats for greenwashing solutions, such as the carbon capture and storage technologies which are not favoured by the climate activists community since they only offer a temporary limited solution, rather than solve the direct cause of climate change.

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