COP28: Countries at UN climate talks agree to 'transition away' from fossil fuels

The new COP28 agreement was greeted with a standing ovation on Wednesday, but some still don't think it goes far enough

An agreement has been reached at the United Nations COP28 climate talks to "transition away" from fossil fuels.

It is a significant step towards shifting how the world is powered, but questions remain over how soon the change will take place, who will pay for it and a "fatal flaw" in the text which could facilitate further carbon pollution.

The deal, struck by representatives of nearly 200 countries in Dubai on Wednesday, comes after more than two weeks of discussion on how to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Nations were split between those wanting strong language on a phase-out of fossil fuels and others who wanted some way to continue burning oil, gas and coal. The new compromise had been floated early Wednesday after a global rallying cry stronger than proposed days earlier, but with loopholes that upset critics.

Climate minister says it was 'certainly' worth 6,800 mile round trip to attend end of COP28 after leaving early

While talks were ongoing, UK Climate Minister Graham Stuart opted to leave COP28 early, making a 6,800-mile round trip to push the government's Rwanda Bill in the House of Commons.

It has led to numerous NGO's and scientists blasting his decision to seemingly put the needs of the PM before the needs of the global climate future.

And, according to the carbon calculator of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency, Mr Stuart would have produced 674.8kg of CO2 on his round trip, assuming he flew economy.

This equates to around one-fifteenth of the average annual CO2 footprint per person in the UK, or three round trips between London and Madrid and around two-thirds of the emissions flying between the UK capital and Los Angeles.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Stuart said the deal was "certainly worth flying back for" and that the UK government was delighted with some of the elements within the deal.

A protester outside the COP28 UN Climate Summit on Tuesday in Dubai. Credit: AP

Mr Stuart also defended the UK government granting new drilling licenses in the North Sea, telling ITV News they "are just part of a managed decline of the North Sea basin".

"We expect with new licenses...that production will fall by about 7% a year, so we are expecting it to half in a decade, ahead of what is required internationally ," he said

The new proposal doesn’t go so far as to seek a “phase-out” of fossil fuels, which more than 100 nations had pleaded for.

Instead, it calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade”. That transition would be in a way that gets the world to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and follows the dictates of climate science. It projects a world peaking its ever-growing carbon pollution by the year 2025 to reach its agreed-upon threshold, but gives wiggle room to individual nations like China to peak later. “The world is burning, we need to act now,” said Ireland Environment Minister Eamon Ryan. Intensive sessions with all sorts of delegates went well into the small hours of Wednesday morning after the conference presidency's initial document angered many countries by avoiding decisive calls for action on curbing warming.

Delegates walk into a meeting at the COP28 summit on Wednesday. Credit: AP

Then, the United Arab Emirates-led presidency presented delegates from nearly 200 nations a new central document — called the global stocktake — just after sunrise. It's the third version presented in about two weeks and the word “oil” does not appear anywhere in the 21-page document, but “fossil fuels” appears twice. The Alliance of Small Island States said in a statement that the text ”is incremental and not transformational. We see a litany of loopholes in this text that are a major concern to us.” “We needed a global signal to address fossil fuels. This is the first time in 28 years that countries are forced to deal with fossil fuels,” Center for Biological Diversity energy justice director Jean Su said.

“So that is a general win. But the actual details in this are severely flawed. "The problem with the text is that it still includes cavernous loopholes that allow the United States and other fossil fuel producing countries to keep going on their expansion of fossil fuels."

She said there's a "pretty deadly, fatal flaw in the text", which allows for the continuation of "transitional fuels" – a code word for natural gas that also emits carbon pollution.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...