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The Cop28 deal shows improvement, but there is still room for flexibility for all countries, including Australia.

Cop28 is the first time that a UN decision acknowledged the need for the decline of not only coal but also oil and gas, and called on all countries to work towards it. The fact that it was struck in the Gulf region, and presided over by an oil executive, might have increased the latitude for oil and gas but also sets an important marker.

The ruling permits the use of fossil fuels in reaching net zero, but remains ambiguous and allows for flexibility for all nations. Despite this, it marks significant advancement in an area where competing economic motives are prevalent.

The resolution urges nations to aid in the shift towards renewable energy sources in order to reach a net zero carbon emissions goal by 2050. It additionally advocates for a reduction in coal usage without carbon capture and storage. These actions are crucial in mitigating the effects of climate change.

The language used in Cop decisions holds significance. It can serve as a benchmark for governmental choices regarding policies and emission goals, and it resonates within corporate meetings and financial institutions. This outcome from Cop makes it more challenging to justify investments that go against the objectives of addressing climate change.

In a world where net zero emissions are the goal, any use of fossil fuels would require the captured carbon dioxide to either be stored or balanced out by actively removing it from the atmosphere. This approach makes economic sense in achieving net zero emissions.

The wording of the decision excludes the chemicals sector where oil and gas are used, and it might be interpreted to exclude the transport sector. Both have ready technological options to displace fossil fuels, namely clean hydrogen-based energy feedstock and electrification.

During the middle of the 28th Conference of Parties (Cop28), there was a suggestion to implement a “fossil fuel phase-out”. Many people had high expectations for this proposal, and the disappointment with the final decision stems from its weaker language compared to the original proposal, which did not pass due to pressure from oil and gas companies.

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Completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels would align with a robust environmental goal. It would prevent the possibility of failing to meet requirements for capturing or eliminating carbon dioxide. It would also prevent harmful environmental impacts from coal mining, oil and gas extraction and processing, and air pollution caused by burning fuels.

Fully eliminating the use of fossil fuels would fundamentally alter the global energy system and significantly impact trade and export earnings.

This concept is unimaginable and deemed unacceptable by numerous countries that heavily rely on fossil fuel production. Entire nations depend on the income generated by oil and gas, and the industry holds significant influence. While Saudi Arabia stands at the forefront, there are several other countries in a similar position.

Developed and developing countries are divided by faultlines when it comes to the use of fossil fuels. Underdeveloped countries worry about bearing the burden of upfront expenses in transitioning to a non-fossil fuel system. In the interest of fairness and following the UN principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” wealthy nations should contribute to the costs of this transition in poorer nations. However, climate finance, although desired, is not sufficient to cover these expenses. Additionally, poorer countries may also anticipate a decrease in fossil fuel prices as global demand decreases.

The Cop decision text states that the shift towards renewable energy sources must be carried out in a fair, organized, and unbiased manner, while also considering varying national circumstances, paths, and methods.

There is ample opportunity for any country to deviate from the main objective. However, prioritizing fairness is essential in a highly unequal global society and accounting for varying levels of development and national situations is a fundamental aspect of the Paris agreement and unavoidable in any scenario.

Governments are typically hesitant to implement changes that may go against their country’s economic interests. Rather, they aim to gain economic benefits through the transition.

Australia’s recent change in position showcases a deviation from the norm for a major producer and exporter of fossil fuels. During Cop, the Minister of Climate and Energy, Chris Bowen, stated that transitioning away from fossil fuels presents an economic advantage for Australia, given its comparative proficiency in renewable energy. While there may not be any concrete policies in place to restrict the export of fossil fuels, the explicit focus on embracing clean energy in the future sends a powerful message globally.

The clear position of those who produce fossil fuels is to anticipate a future with lower carbon emissions, while also taking advantage of the current demand for fossil fuels. However, this strategy may conflict with efforts to address climate change. While law enforcement can aid in making progress, it cannot resolve the fundamental discrepancies between the needs of countries rich in fossil fuels, wealthy and impoverished consumers of these fuels, and the state of the environment.

Source: theguardian.com