Mumbai: The Dubai Consensus has called on countries to transition away from fossil fuels--instead of a complete fossil fuel phase-out--to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This is the first time the annual Conference of Parties has directly addressed fossil fuels as up until now, they would only address the need to cut emissions from the dirty fuels.

The final agreement, which found consensus on Wednesday, reiterated an earlier agreement to phase down coal power, but without any mention of avoiding new coal capacity. India was one of the countries that had opposed any quantification of targets, as it heavily relies on coal for energy needs and has new coal capacity in the pipeline.

The Consensus allowed for the use of transitional fuels--such as natural gas--to facilitate the energy transition while ensuring energy security, which was widely seen as a loophole to allow for the use of natural gas, climate advocacy group Climate Trends said in a media release.

Representative of small island nations Anne Rasmussen said representatives of the bloc were not in the room when the final stocktake text was accepted. “We don't see any commitment to peak emissions by 2025. It is not enough to reference science and make agreements that ignore that science,” she said while speaking at the closing plenary.

A separate loss and damage fund set up at this conference saw at least $655 million pledged in the days that followed. Despite being announced last year, a transitional committee that was formed to put in place the fund’s nuts and bolts found it very difficult to get developed and developing nations on the same page over various differences, we reported late last month.

The conference also had a separate day for health this year and managed to have 123 countries sign a Declaration on Climate and Health with millions of dollars announced in financing. Also, the 2010 Green Climate Fund to help developing countries address the climate crisis received a substantial $12,833 million from countries.

The Buildup

The annual global climate conferences (known as Conference of Parties to the Paris Agreement or COP) are known for their tug-of-war between developed and developing nations until the very last minute, and this year’s conference, called COP28 being held in Dubai, was no different. After 13 days of haggling, arguing and negotiating over its final agreement, countries settled for a ‘transition away from fossil fuels’ early Wednesday morning.

The world is currently on track to produce 110% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, and 69% more than consistent with 2°C, according to the Production Gap report published by United Nations’ Environment Programme in November 2023. The oversupply of fossil fuels will worsen extreme weather and continue to increase temperatures around the world.

India’s total greenhouse gas national emissions have increased by 4.56% with respect to 2016 and by 115.42% since 1994.

The year 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record, further underlining the need for world leaders to act. This year marks the conclusion of the Global Stocktake, which is a periodic exercise to assess progress since the Paris Agreement. It is held every five years and is intended to inform the next round of countries’ climate pledges to be put forward by 2025.

Being a host in the stocktake year, it was all the more important for the United Arab Emirates to deliver a strong outcome even as it struggled with concerns over the appointment of the chief of its oil giant ADNOC- Sultan Al-Jaber- as COP President.

To add to that, a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists attended this year’s conference as compared to previous years, setting off alarm bells. Following growing demand from the most vulnerable nations to phase out fossil fuels entirely, and even as a final agreement text was being negotiated, the group of 13 Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) shot a letter to its members asking them to reject any agreement that targeted fossil fuels rather than emissions.

Not long after, a draft agreement was published which had no mention of a fossil fuel phase-out but only a phase-down of coal with the word ‘could’ attached, making the text weaker than previous years. This led to uproar among the developing nations as it was seen as a missed opportunity for the world to stay on track and limit warming to 1.5 degrees as envisaged in the Paris Agreement.

The draft was taken back to the drawing board and in the early hours of Wednesday, the Dubai Consensus was passed without comments.

Host UAE called the Consensus “an enhanced, balanced and historic package to accelerate climate action”.

But a representative of Marshall Islands--a country in the Pacific Ocean consisting of islands, some of which are low-lying--while speaking on the adoption of the global stocktake at the closing plenary said, “In the context of the real world where temperatures are rising and people are dying, it is not enough. I hope that we will continue to call for a phase-out of fossil fuels that are complete.”

What the consensus entails

The world needs to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 relative to the 2019 level and reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 to keep global warming within the 1.5 degrees limit.

Taking note of that, the Dubai Consensus called upon countries to triple renewable energy capacity globally and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. This pledge was earlier adopted by the group of 20 countries or G20 in its conference in New Delhi this year. India aims to meet 50% of its electricity installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

The Dubai Consensus called for accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power, maintaining the wording from the Glasgow conference the year before last and omitting the reference to “limitations on permitting new and unabated coal power generation” as was included in an earlier draft. India, as we said, relies heavily on coal for its energy needs and has more coal capacity in the pipeline, so does China.

The most important takeaway, the transition away from fossil fuels, has to be done in ‘a just, orderly and equitable manner’, and non-CO2 emissions, that of methane in particular, have to be reduced globally by 2030.

The text that “recognizes that transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security” raised eyebrows, as the term transitional fuel is seen as a reference to natural gas. While natural gas has some benefits in terms of less CO2 emissions and air quality benefits, it is still a polluting fossil fuel.

“This COP has largely disappointed on all fronts. It hasn't sufficiently raised climate ambition, held historical polluters accountable, or established effective mechanisms to finance climate resilience and a just low-carbon transition for the Global South,” said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

“The exclusive focus on rapidly phasing down unabated coal, as opposed to all fossil fuels, heightens the risk of exacerbating the North-South global divide,” he said. “Despite the spotlight on fossil fuels, realising a phase-down necessitates a simultaneous robust expansion of renewable energy and climate finance. COP28's failure to instate effective financial mechanisms, obliging historical emitters to contribute, jeopardises support for developing nations in meeting their NDCs.”

Ulka Kelkar, Executive Director, Climate at World Resources Institute India, said that from an Indian perspective, this text displays greater parity between coal and other fossil fuels “but it appears to absolve developed countries of the responsibility of phasing out their fossil fuel use ‘in this critical decade’. In fact, the reference to ‘transitional fuels’ explicitly gives gas-producing countries the licence to sell more gas rather than invest in renewable energy.”

Countries now have to revise their national climate pledges by next year.

India congratulated the UAE’s COP Presidency “for its fairness, transparency and free exchange of thought” at the closing plenary.

We welcome feedback. Please write to We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.