COP28 Concludes with Landmark Decision to Shift Away from Fossil Fuels

Negotiators from nearly every country in the world closed COP28 with a decision that—for the first time—formally recognizes the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels to achieve Paris Agreement targets.

The decision, adopted on the last day of the two-week 28th Conference of the Parties (COP 28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), is based on the outcome of the first “global stocktake.”

As outlined by the Paris Agreement, reached in 2015 at COP21, a global stocktake performs as an inventory to review climate goal implementation and assess collective progress, underlining why more ambitious climate action is urgently needed. The Paris Agreement calls for global stocktakes every five years (with the first concluding at COP28). Outcomes are meant to inform the next round of climate action plans as part of the Paris Agreement’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which will be put forward by 2025.

The first global stocktake, developed under a two-year process that kicked off in 2022, considered the central outcome of COP28, pivotally reaffirms the science that indicates global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 43% by 2030, 60% by 2035 (compared to 2019 levels), and reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But it underscores that despite overall progress on mitigation and  adaptation, parties aren’t yet “collectively” on track toward achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement.

‘Deep, Rapid, Sustained Reductions’

To achieve the necessary “deep, rapid, and sustained reductions” in greenhouse gases (GHGs), the global stocktake outcome decision lays out concerted measures parties should target, though it recognizes parties may do so depending on their national circumstances, pathways, and approaches.

Most are notably geared toward power generation, heat production, and transportation. The decision calls on parties to contribute to: 

  • Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
  • Accelerating efforts toward the phase-down of unabated coal power.
  • Accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emission energy systems, utilizing zero- and low-carbon fuels “well before or by around mid-century.”
  • Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems “in a just, orderly and equitable manner,” accelerating action in this critical decade to achieve net zero by 2050.
  • Accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including renewables, nuclear, abatement, and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage (CCUS),  particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production.
  • Accelerating and substantially reducing non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions by 2030.
  • Accelerating the reduction of emissions from road transport on a range of pathways, including through development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles.
  • Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible.

The decision also welcomes falling costs of “mitigation technologies,” like wind, solar, and storage “thanks to technological advancements, economies of scale, increased efficiency and streamlined manufacturing processes.” However, it recognizes “the need to increase the affordability and accessibility of such technologies.”

In addition, the decision recognizes a significant need for investment in clean energy, estimating a requirement of nearly $4.3 trillion per year until 2030. That amount could increase thereafter to $5 trillion per year until 2050 to achieve net-zero emissions.

That may require new and additional grant-based, highly concessional finance, and non-debt instruments to support developing economies. The private sector may need encouragement, too, it suggests. The decision recognizes the need to strengthen policy guidance, incentives, regulations, and “enabling conditions” to reach the required scale of investments.

More Power-Related Announcements at COP28

In addition to the decision, parties at COP28 adopted a framework for a global “goal” on adaptation. The goal sets out 2030 targets for all parties to conduct impact, vulnerability, and risk assessments; adopt and implement adaptation plans and policy instruments; and set up monitoring, evaluation, and learning systems for their national adaptation efforts.

Several other significant collaborations and targets were also unveiled at COP28.

Efforts Kick Up to Phase Out Fossil Fuels.  Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), a coalition of national and subnational governments, businesses and organizations working to advance the transition away unabated coal power generation, announced it gained substantial new members. These include the U.S., the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Iceland, Kosovo, Norway, Malta, and the UAE.

Separately, France, along with Canada, European Commission, Indonesia, Malaysia, Senegal, the UK, the U.S., Vietnam, and several organizations, including the PPCA, launched the Coal Transition Accelerator. The initiative aims to share expertise, design new policies, including through best practices and lessons learned, and unlock new sources of public and private financing to facilitate just transitions from coal to clean energy.

In tandem, the Netherlands launched an international coalition to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Austria, the federal government of Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Finland, Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, France, Denmark, Costa Rica, and Luxemburg joined the coalition

At least two entities announced measures to shutter coal plants at COP28. The Coal to Clean Credit Initiative (CSI), supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, announced a collaboration with Philippines generator ACEN Corp. that would leverage carbon finance to phase out the 270-MW circulating fluidized bed thermal plant in Calaca, Batangas. The 2015-opened plant operates as a baseload unit that meets the power demand of Luzon, the Phillipines’ largest and most populous island. 

Under the collaboration, the coal plant would leverage CCCI’s “coal-to-clean” credits to enable its early decommissioning in 2030—10 years before it is slated to close. “While financial tools are already in place to support the early retirement of coal-fired power plants and their replacement with clean power, these are challenging to deploy in emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs),” the CCCI noted in a statement.  The partners will explore the viability of an early retirement and repurpose the plant towards cleaner energy options as early as 2030, a decade ahead of its current retirement date.

“The economics of phasing out coal-fired power plants are challenging. There is a need for effective market-based financing solutions, including the use of transition credits to improve the economic case of retiring these plants early, and we are pleased to collaborate with ACEN Corporation and Climate Smart Ventures to pilot the use of CCCI’s methodology,” said Gillian Tan, Assistant Managing Director and Chief Sustainability Officer, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). “Through the pilot transactions that MAS has convened, we hope to road-test and learn from different approaches that can catalyze the use of high-integrity transition credits to support the early retirement of coal plants on a significantly larger scale.”

Indonesia and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), meanwhile, said the 660-MW coal-fired power plant (CFPP) Cirebon-1 in Indonesia will likely be retired in 2035, almost seven years earlier than scheduled, as a result of discussions with the plant’s owners and Indonesia’s government under the ADB’s Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) program.

A Huge Push for a Nuclear Expansion. On Dec. 1, more than 20 countries launched the “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy,” a commitment to collaboratively triple nuclear capacity by 2050. Global capacity currently stands at 370 GW, which would mean expanding it to 1,110 GW. Endorsing countries include the U.S., Armenia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ghana, Hungary, Jamaica, Japan, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, UAE, and UK.

Then, on Dec. 7, the U.S., Canada, France, Japan, and the UK announced plans to mobilize $4.2 billion in government-led investments to develop a secure, reliable global nuclear energy supply chain. The investments are geared to enhance uranium enrichment and conversion capacity over the next three years “and establish a resilient global uranium supply market free from Russian influence.” The five nations are collectively responsible for 50% of the world’s uranium conversion and enrichment production capacity.

Tripling Renewables.  Another 116 countries on Dec. 1 committed to tripling the world’s installed energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW by 2030 and to double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements to more than 4% by 2030.

Utility and Regional Targets. Dubai on Dec. 8 announced a plan to achieve carbon neutrality, with a target of achieving a 50% reduction in emissions by the year 2030. “The new plan will accelerate the momentum it has achieved in its transition towards clean energy over the last decade, backed by a clear roadmap for reaching its net-zero goal by 2050. Japan Climate Initiative (JCI) on Dec. 5 released a carbon pricing proposal for JCI members that would introduce a pricing scheme (aiming for $130/t-CO2 by 2030) by 2025.

Separately, 25 global utilities and power companies on Dec. 5 jointly committed to advancing electrification, renewables-ready grids, and clean energy deployment in line with 2030 breakthrough goals and a net zero future by 2050. The companies formed the Utilities for Net Zero Alliance (UNEZA) as a vehicle for implementation and requested the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to lead the secretariat. The utilities will “work to address impediments to the net zero pathway framed within IRENA’s World Energy Transitions Outlook and reflected in the 2030 Breakthroughs led by the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions.”

Hydrogen and Derivatives.  Thirty-nine countries launched a “Declaration of Intent on the Mutual Recognition of Certification Schemes for Renewable and Low-Carbon Hydrogen and Hydrogen Derivatives.” Endorsers of the declaration seek to work toward mutual recognition of hydrogen certification schemes to help facilitate a global market, the DOE said. “The U.S., which uses the term ‘clean hydrogen’ rather than ‘low-carbon hydrogen’ nationally, understands ‘low-carbon’ in this document and others as inclusive of hydrogen produced with renewable energy, nuclear energy, or carbon capture and storage, and therefore not inclusive of hydrogen produced with unabated fossil energy, including natural gas,” it said.

Separately, Flagship Partners Hydrogen Congress for Latin America & the Caribbean, The Green Hydrogen Organisation, and The Green Hydrogen Catapult, convened by the High-Level Champions, developed the “Joint-Agreement on the Responsible Deployment of Renewables-Based Hydrogen.”

Methane Emissions. Rocky Mountain Institute, the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) with support from The Global Methane Hub and launched WasteMAP, an open platform that links satellite monitoring of methane emissions with methane inventories and the actions being carried out at the facility.

The State of California launched the Subnational Methane Action Coalition with other partner governments at COP28. The Coalition includes 15 members around the world committed to ambitious reductions in methane emissions and international collaboration on methane abatement strategies and technologies

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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