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Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Simon Stiell (left) and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai Image Credit: REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

Dubai: The ‘UAE Consensus’ reached at COP28 in Dubai may not have turned the page on the end of the fossil fuel era but its outcome is the beginning of the end, UN chiefs have said.

The two-week Conference of Parties 28 (COP28) ended with the adoption of the UAE Consensus.

For the first time ever, the deal called on Parties to “transition away from fossil fuels in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade” to achieve net zero by 2050.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, a vocal proponent against fossil fuels, said: “COP28 occurred at a decisive moment in the fight against climate change. It’s important that the outcome of the Global Stocktake reaffirms the need for limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C and that this requires drastic reductions in emissions in this decade.”

He added: “And for the first time, there is a recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels – after many years in which the discussion of this issue was blocked.”

After nearly 200 COP Parties approved the new climate deal, Guterres said that the era of fossil fuels must end, and it must end with justice and equity.

He added: “To those who opposed a clear reference to phase out of fossil fuels during the COP28 Climate Conference, I want to say: Whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.”

‘Commit to most ambitious interpretation of text’

Similarly, following the adoption of the UAE Consensus, UN United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said: “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai [at COP28], this outcome is the beginning of the end.”

Stiell also said that the text leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Commenting on US Climate Envoy John Kerry’s closing statements at the plenary, Steill noted that the US has assured commitment to the most ambitious interpretation of final text in the deal.

“This agreement is a [ambition] floor, not a ceiling, so the crucial years ahead must keep ramping up ambition and climate action,” said Stiell. “That’s why we’ll put the Paris Agreement into full effect. We’re rolling up our sleeves. We have a great deal of work still to be done.”

The next two years are critical

The following two years will be critical, said the UN Climate Change chief. At COP29, governments must establish a new climate finance goal, reflecting the scale and urgency of the climate challenge.

“And at COP30, they must come prepared with new nationally determined contributions that are economy-wide, cover all greenhouse gases and are fully aligned with the 1.5C temperature limit,” said the UN body.

“We must get on with putting the Paris Agreement fully to work,” said Stiell. “In early 2025, countries must deliver new nationally determined contributions. Every commitment – on finance, adaptation, and mitigation – must bring us in line with a 1.5-degree world.”

“My final message is to ordinary people everywhere raising their voices for change,” Stiell added. “Every one of you is making a real difference. In the coming years, your voices and determination will be more important than ever. I urge you never to relent. We are still in this race.”

Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former President of Ireland, also reacted to the final COP28 agreement: “The COP28 agreement, while signalling the need to bring about the end of the fossil fuel era, falls short by failing to commit to a complete fossil fuel phase out.”

She added: “If 1.5C is our ‘North Star’ and science our compass, we must swiftly phase out all fossil fuels to chart a course towards a liveable future. To fail to keep global warming below 1.5C has catastrophic implications for the most vulnerable communities and countries.”