The COP28 climate summit concluded with nearly 200 nations reaching a historic agreement, marking the first time such a comprehensive deal has been established. The negotiations spanned over two weeks in the United Arab Emirates. The pact called for a global transition away from fossil fuels to combat the climate change impact.

The deal, passed by COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, received applause and a hug from UN climate chief Simon Stiell. However, the agreement falls short of committing to phasing out or reducing fossil fuels, despite the urging of over 130 countries and various advocacy groups. Instead, it encourages nations to contribute to global efforts in transitioning “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly, and equitable manner.”

The agreement also focuses on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, aligning with scientific recommendations to limit global heating to 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels—a central point of the Paris Agreement. Al Jaber argued that the deal is a response to a global stocktake revealing countries falling short of their Paris Agreement goals. He described it as a historic package to accelerate climate action.

The Alliance of Small Island States, representing 39 countries, was notably absent during the deal adoption, citing the coordination of their response. Lead negotiator Anne Rasmussen from Samoa acknowledged positive elements in the deal but criticised the process, pointing out “a litany of loopholes” and calling for an exponential step change in actions and support.

Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Prof Johan Rockström praised the COP28 deal for its emphasis on transitioning away from coal, oil, and gas. However, he acknowledged that it may fall short of enabling the world to achieve the 1.5C limit, which may be the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel-driven world economy.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised the certainty of a fossil fuel phase-out and expressed hope that it would not come too late. John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, pointed out that the agreement includes reinforcing the 1.5C goal with specified emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2035 relative to 2019 levels. Countries are required to commit to tripling global renewable energy and doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. However, the original goal of having global emissions peak by 2025 was dropped, with objections from China and other nations.

The inclusion of language supported by fossil fuel interests, such as “transition fuels” (code for natural gas) and “carbon capture and utilisation and storage,” raised concerns among environmentalists. Limited progress on climate adaptation and finance was also noted, with acknowledgement that trillions of dollars in support would be needed.

A significant step forward is the operationalisation of a loss and damage fund to aid the most vulnerable in repairing climate breakdown damage, although capacity-building work remains challenging.

As the COP28 climate summit concluded with a historic agreement, attention now turns to the future as countries prepare to reconvene at COP29. The upcoming summit is scheduled in Baku, Azerbaijan, next November.