COP28 draft on fossil fuels derails moves by developing countries on renewable energy


December 12, 2023

A new report released on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai paints a picture of hope, indicating that rapid scale-up of renewable energy capacity is possible, but failing to commit to the phase-out of fossil fuels is a slap on the face for countries that have made strides towards the renewable pathways.

According to the report by Zero Carbon Analytics, over half of the countries worldwide (most of them in the developing world) have tripled their renewable energy capacity in the last ten years.

However, activists from the Global South feel otherwise. “Renewable energy, if fully implemented in all African countries, for example, will cut a paltry four percent of the global emissions, which is a drop in the ocean,” said Philip Kilonzo, a Kenya-based climate activist.

Vehemently opposed

Kilonzo views the push for renewable energy, particularly in Africa, differently. “The push towards renewable under the guise of transition (in Africa) is aimed at sustaining a firm grip on the sector rather than ending poverty on the continent,” he said, noting that the entire energy sector in Africa is yet to free itself from the yolk of colonization. “What we are calling for at COP28 is the phase-out of the fossil fuel by heavy carbon emitters, and not giving us alternative solutions, some which have not been tested to scale.”

For the past two weeks, over 100 countries including the United States of America and the European Union (EU) have been calling for a deal to phase out fossil fuels. This move has vehemently been opposed by Saudi Arabia, among other members of OPEC.

However, on  December 11, 2023, the second last day of the formal period of negotiations at COP28, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released a draft text that failed to address the phase-out of the fossil fuel question.

The single most significant action

The text released by the UN recognizes the need for deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in GHG (Green House Gas) emissions and calls upon Parties to take actions that could include, among other things:

  • Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030;
  • Rapidly phasing down unabated coal and limitations on permitting new and unabated coal power generation;
  • Accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emissions energy systems, utilizing zero and low carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century;
  •  Accelerating zero and low emissions technologies, including, among other things, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies, including carbon capture and utilization and storage, and low carbon hydrogen production, to enhance efforts towards substitution of unabated fossil fuels in energy systems.
  • Reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels in a just, orderly, and equitable manner to achieve net zero by, before, or around 2050 in keeping with the science;
  • Accelerating and substantially reducing non-CO2 emissions, including, in particular, methane emissions globally by 2030;
  • Accelerating emissions reductions from road transport through a range of pathways, including the development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles;
  • Phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and do not address energy poverty or just transitions as soon as possible.

‘Our mindset must evolve’

According to a statement released on the same day by African environmental civil society organizations under the umbrella of the Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), phasing out fossil fuels, the single most significant action needed to limit the emissions of most greenhouse gases and reverse global warming looks like a muzzled conversation in COP28 despite evidence generated in the Global Stock Take Process.

“Business interests side-stepped the imperative of keeping the mean global temperatures rise below 1.5 degrees Celcius and creating a resilient globe, especially for communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” read part of the statement.

In the same vein, Christiana Figueres, former head of UNFCCC and the co-founder of Global Optimism, believes that the transformation the world is already witnessing in the real economy, especially in renewable energies, is significant but insufficient.

“It’s exciting to see the energy sector evolving, but our mindset must evolve too. Leaving COP28 without an ambitious Global Stocktake is not an option; we need everyone on board. Rather, it must be a collective exercise involving all parties in the process,” she said.


Isaiah Esipisu is an independent journalist and a media consultant. He is the continental Coordinator for the Pan Africa Media Alliance for Climate Change (PAMACC).