The world can’t stop using fossil fuels, nor can it stop talking about wanting to quit them. The COP28 climate summit was recently held in Dubai, with leaders from all over the world in attendance. In total, nearly 200 global representatives from state governments, United Nations’ agencies, civil societies, and private businesses were present. During the summit, several agreements and commitments were made in an effort to eventually move away from fossil fuel usage. Of course, not all were in complete agreement, but major advances were made, nonetheless. With the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050, the COP28 agreement established frameworks for attaining this goal. And part of this agreement indeed involved a landmark fossil fuel agreement with key targets in 2030.
From a global climate change perspective, these developments are certainly exciting. Any landmark fossil fuel agreement advancing renewables and limited carbon emissions is noteworthy. But at the same time, green energy transition introduces many other issues along the way with worker-related displacement being important. Significant shortages in green energy skills exist worldwide, and millions depend on fossil fuel industry employment. The COP28 agreement acknowledged this and also strived to address these challenges ahead. While specific strategies and approaches were not defined in this regard, the COP28 agreement did establish values. These values focused on justice, equity, and order when dealing with any landmark fossil fuel agreement. But achieving such transitions will be difficult especially as it pertains to developing nations.
“Decarbonization will create millions of decent new jobs, but governments must also ensure support, training and social protection for those who may be negatively impacted.” – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
A Summary of the COP28 Agreement
The COP28 agreement essentially sought to establish a framework by which the Paris Agreement targets could be achieved. While it did not fully succeed in this regard, it did make strides in this direction. Specifically, the UAE Consensus identified a target to triple the use of renewables by 2030. It also stated energy efficiency should be doubled by that time. And it identified three key areas upon which nations should focus. These included agriculture, food and health. The COP28 agreement listed a need to reduce climate-induced water scarcity while enhancing resilience in the three key areas. These reflected important areas where action frameworks were created.
In addition to this progress, which included a landmark fossil fuel agreement, challenges were also recognized. In considering developing countries, these regions would have a struggle in attaining key climate goals. It was believed that in total these countries would need $387 billion annually to participate fully. On a larger scale, it was also noted that green energy skills development was needed. Out of the 930 million energy workers globally, only one in eight actually possess such skills. Failure to address this would undermine other efforts including that related to the landmark fossil fuel agreement. As a result, these discussions comprised a significant part of the summit.
“It’s easy to convince governments that [worker displacement supports are] important but actually coming to a solution is very different wherever you go.” – Allen Blue, LinkedIn Co-Founder and VP of Product Management
A Just and Equitable Transition
One of the shortcomings evident from the COP28 agreement involved effective transitions programs. Research demonstrated that only about 30% of countries with climate action plans included a just transitions plan. This number fell by a factor of 10 when looking at companies with high carbon emissions. As such, part of the landmark fossil fuel agreement involved transition pathway recommendations. Specifically, the U.N. Just Transition Work Programme created such pathways for regions. By adopting these pathways, the ability to better realize COP28 agreement targets is possible.
Under the U.N. program, the support for transition away from fossil fuel would vary according to criteria. Based on the level of fossil fuel dependency and on poverty levels, such support would be different. These pathways were mainly established for developing countries since other regions have already pursued such pathways. For example, the EU has a European Social Fund that seeks to provide green skills training for five million workers. This includes establishing a Climate Pact with key stakeholders such as labor unions and public authorities. By having such structures in place, worker displacement is lessened. In turn, the feasibility of achieving landmark fossil fuel agreement goals is improved.
“My hope is that this [U.N. Just Transition Work Programme] helps us put some of the real issues on the table and then see where is the consensus to make it happen.” – Anabella Rosemberg, Climate Action Network International
Beginning of the End for Fossil Fuels?
According to some enthusiasts, the COP28 agreement is believed to reflect the beginning of the end for oil and gas. This indeed may be the case, but achieving such a lofty goal by mid-century will be challenging. The landmark fossil fuel agreement made at the summit hopes to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Currently, we are on pace for a three degree rise, which could introduce major climate shifts. But to see an end of fossil fuels completely, funding and resource supports will be needed. This not only means those offered by state governments but likewise by private industries as well. And it will require these same companies to invest in just transition programs for those in the oil and gas sectors.
If such supports can be provided, then broader social enthusiasm for the landmark fossil fuel agreement would be seen. This includes support from the 32 million workers currently in the oil and gas industry. There is evidence that such programs can be effective if done well. For example, Spain has achieved notable success in this regard. It invested $5.45 billion in just transition programs that covered 15 different zones in the country. Over 5,200 workers received skills training in restoration, recycling, and various green technologies. Naturally, this will ease the transition from fossil fuels to renewables while offering social support structures. If we are to see the end of fossil fuels in the future, then similar programs will have to be developed.