by Antonio Michele Storto
It was, as always, an obstacle course that threatened to turn into an open farce by the end. But in the end, a solution was found at COP 28 (the UN climate conference) in Dubai: on Wednesday morning, the 198 delegates from as many Countries in attendance unanimously adopted the Global Stocktake, an agreement hailed by many as ‘historic’ because it is the first to explicitly mention the need to phase out fossil fuels.
The most intransigent fringe – represented by the European Union and the Alliance of Small Island States – had insisted until the very end that the need for a ‘phase-out’, i.e. the gradual abandonment of energy sources such as coal, gas and oil, be more clearly stated. However, India, Russia and the OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) members were adamantly opposed to this wording, so much so that the reference to fuels disappeared completely from the penultimate draft – which had left everyone a little dissatisfied before the extremely tense night-time revision that took place between Tuesday and Wednesday.
The undeniable nature of this issue as more than just a semantic disagreement was underlined by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He went so far as to dampen the celebratory mood of the Chairman-in-Office, Emirati Minister of Industry Sultan al-Jaber, with a cold dose of reality. “To those who opposed a clear reference to the phasing out of fossil fuels, I would like to say one thing,” Guterres said at the end of the proceedings. “Whether you like it or not, their phase-out is inevitable: let’s just hope it’s not too late.” Indeed, as early as February 2022, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had estimated that the window of opportunity to reverse climate change was now narrowing and would close forever within the decade.
After intense tensions over the weekend, during which island nations most vulnerable to the severe effects of global warming expressed their reluctance, saying they didn’t want to “sign their own death warrant”, the possible adoption of the latest draft – which merely proposed different options for countries to cut emissions – was rejected. Paragraph 28 now speaks of “the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions of 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 compared to 2019 levels, with the aim of achieving net zero emissions by 2050”. Emissions are expected to peak by 2025, but room for manoeuvre has been left for some countries, led by China.
The North Star is still the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century compared to the pre-industrial era. “But the problem,” explains Mauro Albrizio of the Italian environmental association Legambiente, who attended the Dubai meeting, “is that the planned use of low-carbon technologies, i.e. technologies to reduce CO2 emissions that should allow us to continue using fossil fuels or nuclear power, risks undermining this objective, at least to the extent hypothesised by the IPCC, which spoke of a 43% reduction within the next seven years. Unfortunately, the truth is that these technologies are not even ready yet.”
In fact, this is the main criticism of the text, which many consider to be marred by too many loopholes for the fossil fuel industry: Amnesty International’s climate advisor has openly spoken of “fraudulent claims about technologies that do not yet exist.”
“Indeed,” Albrizio concludes, “there is broad agreement on the hypothesis that if the reduction target set for 2030 is not met, the trajectory of global warming could no longer be corrected. This is why it makes no sense to rely on technologies that are not yet available, and I am also referring to nuclear energy, because at the moment we can only rely on fission, whereas we need fusion. Of course, the only realistic strategy is to focus on renewable energy and investment in energy efficiency, which is also provided for in the text. Among others, the International Atomic Energy Agency itself, which is certainly not an environmentalist think-tank, confirms that this is the most technologically feasible and economically viable path: all that is lacking is the political will”.
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