COP28: Winners and losers in the new global climate deal

The far-ranging global climate deal struck Wednesday in Dubai is, like those that preceded it in nearly three decades of such talks, a mixed bag.

The far-ranging global climate deal struck Wednesday in Dubai is, like those that preceded it in nearly three decades of such talks, a mixed bag. Island nations left COP28 disappointed. The UAE gained some bragging rights. And the prospect of the world hitting its most ambitious climate goal remained in limbo, notes The Washington Post.

COP28 undoubtedly included breakthroughs — in this case, the first time that nearly 200 nations have called on one another to transition away from reliance on the fossil fuels that are driving the planet’s warming. It also called for the tripling of renewable energy by 2030 and doubling of energy efficiency measures.

“We are finally naming the elephant in the room,” Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, said in a statement Wednesday of the fossil fuel language. “The genie is never going back into the bottle, and future COPs will only turn the screws even more on dirty energy.”

But as ever, the consensus deal was criticized by some activists and nations as too weak, riddled with loopholes and not sufficient to confront the scale of the climate crisis bearing down on humanity.

Here is an initial glimpse at some of the winners and losers — and some who could lay claim to a bit of both — after two weeks of contentious negotiations at the latest United Nations climate summit:


United Arab Emirates: The host nation faced understandable skepticism ahead of the talks. Critics viewed the UAE and the summit’s president, state oil executive Sultan Al Jaber, of doing the bidding of fossil fuel interests and questioned whether they would be an honest broker. But the UAE also saw COP28 as a chance to gain geopolitical prestige and position itself as a backer, rather than an obstacle, to the world’s energy transition. It appears to have succeeded on that front. And for what it’s worth, it’s tough to stage a well-run climate summit with roughly 80,000 attendees. But the wealthy nation overlooked no detail — every bathroom was spotless round-the-clock — and set a gold standard for hosting such a global, high-stakes event.

The United States and the European Union: Earlier in the week, it appeared that any chance for consensus might crumble in Dubai amid acrimony and deep divisions. But U.S. and E.U. negotiators helped to walk a very thin line, stitching together an agreement that thrilled few parties but delivered a face-saving outcome to keep the world moving toward a future with fewer overall emissions.

Vulnerable and developing nations: The U.N. conference began with an agreement to create a long-awaited fund aimed at helping poorer nations already being hit hardest by the climate disasters. The idea is that it will be funded by rich countries that overwhelmingly are to blame for causing the planet’s warming. The fund, which seemed like an unlikely aspiration only several years ago, is now a reality.


Vulnerable and developing nations: After the deal was gaveled, the lead negotiator for small island nations said they hadn’t been in the room for the final decision. It was indicative of the frustrations and distrust such nations on the front lines of climate change often feel at these talks — that large, developed countries do not feel sufficient urgency. “[We] did not come here to sign our death warrant,” John Silk, minister of natural resources and commerce for the Marshall Islands, said earlier in the summit. His nation and others helped ensure the final deal moved toward phasing out fossil fuels — but not as rapidly as they insist is necessary. Leaders of developing nations also were disappointed that wealthy world powers were not compelled to fork up more financing to help countries adapt to climate change and survive its ravages.

5C: Throughout the two weeks in Dubai, leaders insisted they would do everything possible to keep in sight the most ambitious goal of the Paris agreement — to limit Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry called it a “critical guidepost.” Al Jaber called it his “North Star.” But scientists have detailed how quickly the world is barreling toward that critical threshold, and some have suggested it is fanciful for leaders to insist that it remains within reach. Either way, what seems certain is that the agreement finalized Wednesday, while it includes progress, does little to ensure that the world will hit the brakes fast enough to avoid the ever-worsening consequences of warming. “This keeps 1.5 alive, but only if all countries, all actors within this fulfill their commitments,” said top U.N. climate official Simon Stiell.

Win some, lose some

Petrostates: Saudia Arabia and other nations such as Russia, whose economies rely overwhelmingly on petrochemicals, are often accused of throwing sand in the gears of U.N. climate agreements. This year was no different. Saudi Arabia helped to fend off language calling for an outright “phase out” of fossil fuels in the near term. The nonbinding deal also includes clear pathways for fossil fuel usage to continue well into the future. The ramp-down also applies to fossil fuel use in “energy systems” — a phrase that could leave wiggle room in other sectors. Saudia Arabia and other oil-reliant nations now seem to realize that, more than ever, global sentiment is heading toward cleaner energy. But how quickly nations act remains open to interpretation. As former vice president Al Gore put it, “Whether this is a turning point that truly marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era depends on the actions that come next.”

Climate activists: The sea of demonstrators who once again came to push world leaders toward more aggressive climate action made waves. They disrupted some of the proceedings and pressured negotiators to forge an agreement that included an eventual phaseout of fossil fuels. But the activists who descended on Dubai also expressed frustration over the thousands of lobbyists at the talks, the rules and restrictions around protesting and a lackluster final deal. “Civil society can be incredibly proud of the momentum built to get us to this point,” Teresa Anderson, global lead on climate justice for ActionAid International, said in a statement. “COP28 has resulted in an outcome that should discourage institutions from investing in assets that will soon be stranded. But there is still much more to do to ensure that we can really fund our future.”

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