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COP28 called decisive by many but criticism remains

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Dubai: From operationalisation of the Loss and Damage fund on the first day to the adoption of a landmark deal of making a 'transition away from fossil fuels', this year's global climate talks COP28 are considered a decisive one by many, but criticism was also drawn from several quarters over lack of clarity in the roadmap ahead.

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Nearly 200 nations reached a historic deal at the UN climate summit, marking a pivotal shift towards a 'transition away from fossil fuels' – the primary culprit behind the global climate crisis.

The words 'fossil fuel' became part of the final document of the first Global Stocktake deal, being termed the UAE consensus, at the COP28 for the first time in almost three decades of such negotiations, which called for its transition in a just and equitable manner.

Adopted after nearly two weeks of hectic negotiations at the largest gathering of delegates ever seen during climate talks, it urges countries to accelerate efforts toward the phase-down of unabated coal power, which is a climb down after India and China strongly resisted the singling out of coal.

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The COP28 started on November 30 and overshooted by a day to end on December 13. It saw participation from around 85,000 delegates from 198 countries.

The opening day saw the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage fund, a deal on how to compensate developing and poor countries that bear the brunt of the climate crisis despite contributing little to it.

On the last day, the UAE consensus was signed.

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A landmark achievement hailed by negotiators as the UAE consensus, the agreement emerged after nearly two weeks of intense discussions during COP28.The deal underscores the necessity for a just and equitable transition from fossil fuels, introducing the term 'fossil fuel' into the final document of the first Global Stocktake deal.

Despite criticism from activists for lacking clarity, the agreement urges countries to expedite efforts in phasing down unabated coal power, acknowledging the climb-down following resistance from major coal-dependent nations.

As COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber gavelled through the UAE consensus, the room full of negotiators at the annual Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) burst into applause.

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Addressing the closing plenary of the COP28, Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav said the collective efforts here have sent positive signals to the world in reinforcing commitment to maintaining the temperature goals set in Paris.

"The way ahead must be based on equity and climate justice. Let us implement the Paris Agreement in letter and spirit through the Global Stocktake process," he said.

The text of the Dubai climate talks calls for a deep, rapid, and sustained reduction in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5-degree Celsius pathways in a nationally determined manner, taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances, pathways, and approaches.

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The historic document called on countries with an eight-point plan to achieve this. It includes transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a "just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this decade, to achieve net zero (balance between greenhouse gases emitted and removed from the atmosphere) by 2050.

It also urged countries to accelerate efforts toward phase-down unabated coal power, a marginal step up from the 2021 Glasgow deal.

However, unlike the previous versions, it lacks references to limiting the permitting of new and unabated coal power generation This absence suggests a strong pushback from heavily coal-dependent countries such as India and China.

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Also, there is no mention of oil and gas in the 21-page document, which are fuels that rich countries continue to use.

The COP28 was called the "most inclusive climate talks", but opinion over the claim remained divided, with many people from the indigenous groups claiming that the presence of women, youth and indigenous community remained more outside than inside the negotiations.

There were also a number of protests both inside and outside the venue, including one from 12-year-old Indian activist Licypriya Kangujam, who rushed to the front to hold up a sign declaring: "End Fossil Fuel. Save Our Planet And Our Future". Kangujam said she had been barred from attending any future COPs.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry said the US, along with China, will update their long-term strategies on pathways to net zero emissions by 2050 and encouraged other countries to do the same.

Graham Stuart, the UK's climate change minister, said this is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. "We've heard from the small island states, and we understand their concerns. The voices of the islands must be heard," he said.

India's neighbours -- Pakistan and Bangladesh -- also spoke at the closing plenary and welcomed the adoption of the landmark agreement.

Addressing the gathering after adopting the agreement, Sultan al-Jaber said this is a robust action plan which plans to keep 1.5 degrees within reach.

Avinash Persaud, Special Climate Envoy to Prime Minister Mottley of Barbados, said when the dust settles and dawn breaks, this will be seen as one of the most historic COPs.

"We have operationalised a loss and damage fund, recapitalised the Green Climate Fund, and orchestrated an international climate finance system that prepares for new levies alongside emboldened development banks and new private sector flows. Today, we have committed to triple renewable investments and have a just transition from fossil fuels, " he said.

Noting that some parties opposed a clear reference to phasing out of fossil fuels during the COP28, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his post on X, said:  "Fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable." Ajay Mathur, Director General, International Solar Alliance, said the developments in Dubai further underscore the imperative to transition towards renewable energy to achieve net zero emissions.

Sanjay Vashist, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia, said, "We cannot celebrate the mere inclusion of the reference to fossil fuels in the text if it comes without means of implementation and finance for energy transition for poor and developing countries."

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of the Council for Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), said the COP decision hadn't held historical polluters accountable or established effective mechanisms to finance climate resilience and a just low-carbon transition for the Global South. The Global Stocktake's final text lacked the candid acknowledgement of problems and the teeth required to fight them.

Madhura Joshi, India Lead at independent climate change think tank E3G, said, though there are several contradictions, the first Global Stocktake leaves the door open for low-carbon/emission technologies and transition fuels that have the potential to delay action and lock in resources.

After the COP28 ended, the atmosphere at the venue remained mixed.Outside the plenary session, small island nations, European nations, and Colombia expressed emotional solidarity to advocate for increased ambition.

However, on Wednesday, there was more self-celebration than self-criticism.

Hindou Ibrahim, a Chadian activist who is also a delegate for her country, said this is the first time that fossil fuels have been recognised as the enemy, something which the indigenous people have long said.

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