COP28: World Set To 'Transition Away' From Fossil Fuels

fter two weeks of negotiations, nearly 200 countries adopted the first-ever Global Stocktake at the just concluded UN climate change conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The aim of the global stocktake is to help nations align their national climate plans with the 2015 Paris Agreement, which calls on parties to accelerate climate action and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), which commenced on Nov 30, was scheduled to end on Dec 12 but was extended by one more day due to clashes among the countries over the inclusion of fossil fuel phase-out in the global stocktake.

Earlier, some world leaders, scientists, civil society groups and other delegates called for the phasing out or even phasing down of fossil fuels but the UAE Consensus – as the agreement signed on the last day of COP28 is referred to – did not include an explicit commitment on that matter. 

Instead, it reached a compromise that called on countries to contribute to global efforts to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner”, as well as accelerate action in this critical decade so as to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This is the first time the root cause of the climate crisis – fossil fuels – has been cited in a decision text in nearly 30 years of UN climate talks.

"We have delivered a robust action plan to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius in reach. It is an enhanced, balanced, but make no mistake, a historic package to accelerate climate action. It is the UAE Consensus. We have language on fossil fuel in our final agreement for the first time ever," COP28 president Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber said on the final day of the climate talks.

COP28 President, Dr Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber



While the first-ever Global Stocktake was lauded by many as "the beginning of the end of fossil fuels”, Malaysia described the UAE Consensus as a “historic turning point” in the fight against climate change.

Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said for the  first time in the history of multilateral climate diplomacy, nations were calling upon global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 1.5°C pathway by transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems.

"Malaysia has done many things regarding climate change, and we would do much more and be willing to be more ambitious if we had support from the developed world. While we recognise that the road ahead may be challenging, we remain resolute and determined to navigate the transformative pathway," he said in a statement issued on Dec 14. 

Natural Resources and Environmental Sustainability Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

Commenting on the outcome of the recent climate talks, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia senior analyst Dhana Raj Markandu said it is not surprising that the UAE Consensus lacks strong wording to phase out fossil fuels.

"While that was disappointing, now that fossil fuels are explicitly mentioned in the global stocktake text, future COPs must build on it by establishing clear limits and timelines to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"However, climate impacts are outpacing the incremental progress made at each COP, and more urgency is needed," he said when contacted by Bernama.

He, however, noted the agreement shows a clear commitment to tripling renewable energy (RE) and doubling energy efficiency (EE) by 2030, which involves the phasing down of coal and recognising methane emissions as a crucial element to tackle.

"Acknowledging a broad range of zero- and low-emission technologies, beyond just 'renewables', will enable diverse approaches to the challenge depending on the capabilities and resources of different countries,” he said.

Dhana Raj also said to apply the COP28 global stocktake terminology in a Malaysian context, the government should consider each type of fossil fuel used individually.

"The overarching goal for Malaysia, based on its National Energy Transitions Roadmap targets, appears to be phasing out coal (which will have the most significant impact on emissions) while phasing down oil.

"(However) Gas will continue to play an important role up to 2050 to ensure that we can balance sustainability with energy security and affordability while ensuring economic development and an equitable transition for all segments of society," he said. 

Stressing that renewable energy alone will not be sufficient to address the energy trilemma of security, affordability and sustainability, he said the installed capacity of renewable energy must still be significantly ramped up, along with the necessary grid reinforcements and capital investments to enable this.

"We should also keep our options open for other low-emission and abatement solutions that can help us meet or exceed the targets," he added.




As the world pushes towards net zero emissions by 2050, nuclear power has been touted as the way to bridge the energy gap as it is not only clean but is also considered reliable as it overcomes the intermittent nature of renewables like wind, hydro and solar power.

Innovation and nuclear advocate Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid Syed Ahmad Idid said COP28 has ushered in a critical turning point for the nuclear industry, shifting its reputation as a controversial energy source to being considered a part of key solutions to reach net zero goals.

She said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its landmark statement supported by dozens of countries at COP28 underscored the need for nuclear power to fight climate change.

"Action should be taken to expand the use of this clean energy source and help build 'a low carbon bridge' to the future,” she said. 

Nuclear plant (credit: Freepik)

She said presently, more than 400 nuclear power reactors operating in over 30 countries supply over 10 percent of the world’s electricity and more than a quarter of all low-carbon electricity.

“In essence, without nuclear power, global CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions would be considerably higher,” she added.

According to IAEA, nuclear power has avoided emissions of around 70 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 into the atmosphere in the last five decades.

“It also avoids more than one Gt of CO2 every year in the current decade and is still, globally, the second source of low carbon power behind hydropower.

“This reduction in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is critical because CO2 causes climate change by trapping heat, and it also contributes to respiratory disease from smog and air pollution,” she said. 

The Malaysian government has not ruled out the use of nuclear energy to achieve its energy transition target.

In late August, Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli said Malaysia is not ruling out nuclear power generation but needs to make further consideration before integrating it into the country’s energy mix.




The outcome document of the Global Stocktake at COP28 recommends that countries invest in accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies including, among other things, renewable, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), particularly in hard-to-abate sectors and low-carbon hydrogen production. 

However, the document has faced strong opposition from various quarters, especially international environmentalists and activists, who described the text as “marred by loopholes and offering the fossil fuel industry numerous escape routes”.

Echoing their sentiments, Malaysia's environmental watchdog Rimba Watch co-founder and director Adam Farhan said it is deeply concerning that the Global Stocktake is encouraging the acceleration of false solutions such as CCUS. 

(According to the International Energy Agency, CCUS involves the capture of CO2, generally from large-point sources like power generation or industrial facilities that use either fossil fuels or biomass as fuel. If not being used on-site, the captured CO2 is compressed and transported by pipeline, ship, rail or truck to be used in a range of applications, or injected into deep geological formations such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs or saline aquifers.)

carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) (Credit: IEA)

Adam said to date, according to research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, there has not been a single fossil fuel-led CCUS project that has met its targets.

"The past CCUS projects have leaked the stored carbon back into the atmosphere, and over its 50-year existence the costs of CCUS have not declined, leading a University of Oxford study to describe it as a 'non-improving technology'.

"Further, CCUS only captures operational CO2 emissions, which is a small portion of the total lifecycle emissions of the fossil fuel industry. 

"It merely serves to extend the lifetime of archaic fossil fuel infrastructure while delivering insufficient emission reductions, and cannot be considered a viable climate solution," he said. 


(This article was produced with the support of Climate Tracker’s COP28 Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship.)

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