What just happened at COP28?

Negotiators at this year’s COP climate talks clocked up some serious overtime last night to secure a final agreement earlier this morning (Wednesday).

The talks were due to wrap up yesterday, but the 198 COP countries and other members couldn’t agree on the text of the world’s first global stocktake. It’s a key document to track the world’s progress towards the goals adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement, like limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A quick recap of the negotiations:

  • An early draft of the global stocktakeincluded an unprecedented pledge to phase out” fossil fuels, backed by players like the US, the EU, and small islands
  • Then a later draft text released Monday dropped those two words altogether after OPEC (the cartel of oil-producing nations) urged its members to “proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy, i.e. fossil fuels rather than emissions.
  • But in turn, Monday’s draft upset the ‘Umbrella Group’ of key players, including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Norway, who issued a joint statement saying they wouldn’t be a “co-signatory to… death certificates” for small island states.

The final agreement

So negotiators worked through last night (local time) to find a compromise: instead of “phase out” or “phase down”, the final text calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade”.

It’s significant because, whichever formulation of words you prefer, it’s the first time any COP agreement has called for the world to curb fossil fuels.

Early reactions to the agreement appear mixed:

  • 🇼🇸 Samoa“The course correction that was needed has not been secured. The exclusive focus on energy systems is disappointing… it takes us backward rather than forward… there is a litany of loopholes [in the agreement].”
  • 🇪🇺 EU: “Humanity has finally done what is long, long, long overdue. Thirty years we spent to arrive at the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.”
  • ☂️ Umbrella Group:“We called for more than a step forward and the world has stepped up. The message it sends is clear: all nations of the world have acknowledged that our future is in clean energy and the era of fossil fuels will end. The stocktake also shows we have a long way to go.”
  • 🍃 Africa Movement Building Space (African civil society group): “Proposing a transition away from fossil fuels may sound like a step in the right direction, a glimmer of hope amidst chaos. However, let us not underestimate the cunning tactics of fossil fuel giants and petrostates. They will cleverly disguise their products as ‘transitional’ fuels, especially in the most vulnerable corners of our world.”
  • 🇦🇪 A senior member of the UAE’s COP28 leadership team told us:“We have a consensus that the energy transition is irreversible. It is happening. The question now is how fast. And the fact that this happened in a country that is one of the largest oil and gas producers is a testament to the UAE’s role and diplomatic might in the world”.


There’s been an intriguing debate playing out in the Intrigue community on WhatsApp, including folks on the ground in Dubai right now. (You can join the chat simply by sharing Intrigue with five friends using your unique referral link below!)

You might be wondering why all the fuss over two words – surely “phase down” and “transition away” are just different words for the same vague commitment to wean ourselves off fossil fuels at some point in the future.

There will be plenty of differing views on that question in the coming days, but if we could summarise our own experience in these kinds of diplomatic negotiations, we’d use this classic line by the late Desmond Tutu: “there’s only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.

Also worth noting:

  • The 🇲🇭 Marshall Islands representative was not pleased that COP President Al Jaber seemingly gavelled the final decision while small island developing states were not in the room: “We must be honest: there has not been inclusion, the fact that this decision was gavelled [without discussion] is unacceptable.”
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