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Bon COP, bad COP: Breaking down the UN climate deal

Nearly 200 countries have recognized the need to move away from fossil fuels, in what is being celebrated as a landmark deal at the UN climate talks. But others say it's filled with half measures and loopholes.

What the COP28 final agreement includes and what it doesn't

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber gives a thumbs up as a crowd of climate negotiators fill the stage behind him.

Nearly 200 countries have recognized the need to move away from fossil fuels in what is being celebrated as a landmark deal at the United Nations climate talks that came to a close Wednesday in Dubai.

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber described the agreement as a "historic package to accelerate climate action."

But many also warned it contained a "litany of loopholes" that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to limit warming to the internationally agreed target of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

The 1.5 C benchmark is viewed as crucial in limiting the most catastrophic impacts from climate change, and this year's gathering was seen as pivotal after a year of record-setting heat and extreme weather.

Here's a look at what's in the agreement, what's not and what it means for the years ahead.

A transition, but not a 'phaseout'

For the first time in 28 years of UN climate talks, the final agreement makes mention of fossil fuels — by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — and recognizes the need to transition away from them.

The agreement also acknowledges the goal of limiting emissions to keep warming to 1.5 C and stresses it would require "deep, rapid and sustained reductions" of 43 per cent emissions cut by 2030, relative to 2019 levels. The world has already warmed by 1.2 C.

But the agreement doesn't outline how that would be achieved. There is no mention of a "phaseout" of fossil fuels — the terminology many countries and advocates had called for.

Instead, it recognizes the importance of "transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade."

It also recognizes that "transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security," which climate activists derided as a way to promote natural gas instead of renewable energy.

WATCH | Why COP28 president says the agreement is historic:

COP28 reaches historic climate deal to 'transition away' from fossil fuels

17 hours ago

Duration 6:14

Delegates at COP28 in Dubai, U.A.E., have reached a deal that calls for a 'transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems' in an effort to address climate change.

Wiggle room on emissions

The agreement leaves ample room for emissions of individual nations to peak beyond 2025, even though it recognizes the findings of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concluded carbon pollution must peak by 2025 to limit warming to 1.5 C.

As it stands, the world is not on pace to limit warming. Global greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.2 per cent from 2021 to 2022 to reach a new record last year, according to a recent UN report.

In that report, the world is on pace to warm by as much as 2.9 C by the end of the century — nearly double the international target agreed upon in Paris. Current and planned coal, oil and gas projects would result in 3.5 times more carbon emissions than required to limit warming to 1.5 C.

Canada, the fourth-largest oil producer in the world, is among the countries set to increase production next year.

"Canada and just four other countries are responsible for over half of the planned expansion of oil and gas production. Allowing that expansion to go ahead is a death sentence for millions around the world," said Julia Levin, associate director of the Canadian advocacy group Environmental Defence.

U.N. Climate Summit

Renewables need to triple, but how?

The document also recognizes the need to triple "renewable energy capacity globally and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030."

Calgary-based Pembina Institute says the emphasis on renewables should be a signal for Canada, and particularly Alberta, to put more effort into renewable energy.

"While much work remains, what is beyond doubt is that Canada cannot ignore the challenges and opportunities represented by the energy transition currently underway," said executive director Chris Severson-Baker.

But it's unclear how tripling renewable energy worldwide will be achieved, and there are no specifics on money to help developing countries fund that transition.

Kaisa Kosonen of Greenpeace International said the "outcome leaves poorer countries well short of the resources they will need for renewable energy transition and other needs."

She said rich countries will need to significantly step up financial support and make fossil fuel polluters pay if the many goals of the agreement are to be realized.

Help for developing countries, but more

The agreement does, however, put into effect a "loss and damage" fund that had been agreed upon earlier in the summit. The fund is designed to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change such as floods, drought and rising sea levels.

Canada's Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced an initial commitment of $16 million toward the loss and damage fund. In all, the world's richest countries have committed $700 million to the fund — an amount that falls far short of the $400 billion estimated to be required.

WATCH | The climate deal explained:

COP28's president is calling the Dubai climate agreement 'historic.' Here's why

19 hours ago

Duration 3:20

COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber says the agreement reached in Dubai is a 'balanced' plan that keeps 1.5 C within reach. Hear some of what he said as he outlined the agreement.

Soon after the final agreement was adopted, Anne Rasmussen, Samoa's lead delegate and the representative for a group of small island nations, said "the course correction that is needed has not been secured."

Rasmussen said the deal represented business as usual instead of exponential emission-cutting efforts and warned it could "potentially take us backward rather than forward."

Will this change anything?

The agreement is non-binding, but experts say these kinds of documents can still serve as an important reference point both domestically and internationally.

Jessica Green, a political science professor at University of Toronto and expert in global climate governance, said the Dubai agreement can be considered a "diplomatic success but a policy failure."

Like many previous UN climate meetings, Green said the gathering in Dubai didn't result in firm commitments to change course.

Reaching a consensus among so many countries with such different interests is filled with challenges, but she said at the very least the agreement will set expectations on points such as the need for funding toward climate adaptation and renewable energy.

"The multilateral process will continue to lurch forward," Green said.

Simon Stiell, the UN Climate Change executive secretary, summed up the deal as an "amber light' when a "green light" was the goal but said there are now "paths forward."

Posters sit on the ground and against a wall. One poster shows a planet on fire and another reads 'end the fossil era.'

Al Gore, a former U.S. vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winning climate activist, said while the agreement was an important milestone in recognizing the "climate crisis is at its heart a fossil fuel crisis," he added that "the influence of petrostates is still evident in the half measures and loopholes" in the agreement.

In his view, whether this amounts to a turning point "depends on the actions that come next."

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