At the global climate summit COP28, global leaders have pledged to ultimately move away from fossil fuels cutting a wide swath through everyday life. This is being seen as a monumental attempt to keep the world from warming more than 1.5 degree Celsius, which is considered the tipping point to a cataclysm.
This will imply a dramatic change from the world now to when it is implemented. There will be no more gas for cooking, coal for electricity generation and petrol for cars.
Ani Dasgupta, World Resources Institute President, hailed the commitment as a “historic outcome [that] marks the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era”. In a statement, he said, “Despite immense pressure from oil and gas interests, high ambition countries courageously stood their ground and sealed the fate of fossil fuels.”
Countries that pitch for more stringent action to restrict greenhouse gas emissions are termed “high ambition countries”.
However, there is a catch in the commitment made at the COP28 (or 28th Conference of Parties to Climate Change Convention) meeting held in the UAE earlier this month. The keyword in the pledge is “transitioning away”, and not phasing out, like UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and others wanted.
Appallingly, there is no firm timeline either. The transition is supposed to take place in a just, orderly and equitable manner — in order to achieve net zero — the stage where for any greenhouse gas output is neutralised, none is added to the atmosphere — by 2050, in keeping with the science.
For UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is a firm advocate of completely phasing out fossil fuels, and others who share his view, the call to “transition away” was a disappointment.
He said, “To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase-out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable whether they like it or not. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.” He added that the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5C will be impossible without the phase out of all fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), most of the increases in fossil fuel use would come from developing countries, as the consumption in Western countries falls.
Transitioning out of fossil fuels is a monumental task, especially looking at the present consumption levels and the future energy needs of the Global South struggling to raise their people out of poverty and to an acceptable standard of living.
The scenario points out that industrialised countries were the first to massively exploit fossil fuels and contribute the most to global warming, reducing their consumption, while developing nations increase theirs. The IEA estimates the world oil demand in 2023 at 101.7 million barrels per day (mb/d).
Once more, increased coal use in China by around 5 per cent and India by over 8 per cent offset cuts in consumption in European and other countries.
Globally, gas, which is the lesser polluter of the fossil fuel family, recorded 4.03 trillion cubic metres (tcm) use last year according to Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), which expected a 1 per cent increase this year.
However, gas is considered a “transitional fuel”, and it can act as a bridge between the more polluting coal and petroleum and renewable energy as it is less polluting than them. Transitioning out of fossil fuels would require cutting out their use, which could prove to be a challenge given the volumes of their current use.
According to the IEA, the world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050. However, it is narrow and needs an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally.
The UAE consensus points to ways of achieving the aim. It wants the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements to double by 2030 and global renewable energy capacity tripled.
The declaration said that the adoption of zero- and low-emission technologies, including renewables, nuclear, abatement and greenhouse gas removal technologies such as carbon capture and low-carbon hydrogen production should be accelerated,
It lays emphasis on speeding up the development of infrastructure, rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles and attention to road transportation.
The IEA says that private cars and vans were responsible for around 10% of energy-related carbon emissions and over 25% of global oil use last year. That is why switching over to electric vehicles would make a huge difference to the status quo — and it is already happening.