Image for Even as the heat has been on in Dubai, the renewables juggernaut has gathered pace

Even as the heat has been on in Dubai, the renewables juggernaut has gathered pace

The Cop28 agreement falls short of the explicit commitment many hoped for, but it is significant – and one of a host of causes for optimism

The Cop28 agreement falls short of the explicit commitment many hoped for, but it is significant – and one of a host of causes for optimism

It was hosted in a petrostate, chaired by an oil executive and flooded with fossil fuel lobbyists – vested interests were in plain sight at Cop28 climate summit in Dubai this month. The final deal, for the first time, calls on all countries to transition away from fossil fuels “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”.

It is historic, then, representing significant progress for nations that want to tackle the climate crisis. And the fact that the text was accepted despite huge opposition – reportedly until the last minute – from major oil-producing countries, shows how far the topic has shot up the global agenda in recent years. 

The agreement, involving more than 190 nations, does not include an explicit commitment to phase out or phase down fossil fuels, as many nations, groups and scientists had urged. According to the small island countries that are particularly fragile in the face of the climate crisis, it contains “a litany of loopholes”, and it cannot require countries to abide by it.

But the energy paradigm is changing with or without the petrostates: the renewables juggernaut has been steadily gathering pace. Falling costs, improving technologies and a more accommodating regulatory environment saw wind and solar smash records in 2023 – and the pace is only set to quicken. 

According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), published in October, renewables will provide half the world’s electricity by the turn of the decade. The global energy watchdog said that major shifts will mean a “considerably different” global energy system by 2030, with demand for oil, coal and gas forecast to peak before then. 

The final deal, for the first time, calls on all countries to transition away from fossil fuels

Among its more positive predictions – based on policy settings of governments worldwide prior to Cop28 – are a tenfold increase in EVs on the roads, solar PV generating more electricity than the entire US power system does currently, and three times more cash invested in offshore wind than in coal and gas-fuelled plants. 

The hopeful symbols come with a note of caution. The IEA warned that global emissions are still way too high, and that the fossil fuel phase-out needs to ramp up fast to avoid missing the crucial 1.5C target laid out in the Paris agreement.

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol. “It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us.”

Main image: hrui/iStock

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