Updated Dec 13, 2023 - Energy & Environment

COP28 ends with "historic" climate deal to transition away from fossil fuels

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber (center) applauds among other officials before a plenary session during the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on Wednesday. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

The COP28 climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, ended Wednesday after nearly 200 nations adopted a deal that calls for "transitioning away" from fossil fuels.

Why it matters: This is the first COP agreement to mention moving away from fossil fuels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change — though it still does not include the term "phase out."

A screenshot of a COP28 tweet, saying: " ADOPTED: With an unprecedented reference to transitioning away from all fossil fuels, The UAE Consensus is delivering a paradigm shift that has the potential to redefine our economies."
Photo: COP28 UAE/X

Zoom in: "Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science," states a key passage in the agreement — which also calls for tripling renewable energy capacity globally by 2030.

  • COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber in a speech Wednesday hailed the "historic package" that nations had committed to.
  • "It is an enhanced, balanced but make no mistake, a historic package to accelerate climate action. It is the UAE consensus," said al-Jaber, who is the UAE's climate envoy and CEO of state oil firm ADNOC.
  • "We have language on fossil fuel in our final agreement for the first time ever."

The big picture: Over 100 countries called for language in the COP28 agreement to reference the "phase out" of fossil fuels.

  • The deal reached at the summit that was supposed to wrap up on Tuesday commits to "[a]ccelerating efforts towards phase-down of unabated coal power." But it does not mention other fossil fuels, and major oil producing nation Saudi Arabia was strongly opposed to such language.
  • Negotiators worked into the night to reach the COP agreement after officials in Dubai, including U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, said an earlier draft did not go far enough to give the world a chance to limit global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

What they're saying: Norway's climate minister, Espen Barth Eide said: "It is the first time that the world unites around such a clear text on the need to transition away from fossil fuels. It has been the elephant in the room, at last we address it head on."

  • Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, welcomed the agreement but noted there was no requirement for richer countries to help poorer ones in transitioning away from fossil fuels, per Reuters.
  • "The finance and equity provisions ... are seriously insufficient and must be improved in the time ahead in order to ensure low- and middle-income countries can transition to clean energy and close the energy poverty gap," she said.
  • Stephen Cornelius, deputy global climate and energy lead at the World Wildlife Fund for Nature in a statement called the adopted text "a sorely needed improvement from the last version," though he added: "The language on fossil fuels is much better but still falls short of calling for the full phase out of coal, oil and gas."

Flashback: COP27 summit yields historic deal on climate damage fund

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper