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expert reaction to pledges emerging from COP28

Scientists react to new pledges emerging from COP28. 


Prof Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society said:

“The Royal Society welcomes the historic deal reached at the COP28 climate summit by almost 200 countries. The ‘UAE Consensus’ includes recognition of the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and to transition away from fossil fuel in energy systems. 

“It is now unequivocal that humans are warming the planet and causing changes to the climate, water cycle, and oceans that threaten ecosystems and human life and, according to the UNEP emissions gap report, published in November 2023, the world is currently not on track to meet targets set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

“Achieving net zero by 2050 will require a huge transformation in the production and use of energy, away from fossil fuel dependence towards renewable and sustainable alternatives. Financial and technical support must be rapidly scaled to be commensurate with the needs of low- and middle-income countries to help them transition away from fossil fuels and adapt to current and future climate change. To this end we are pleased that further efforts towards this were made at this conference.

“Managing an electricity system with increased levels of variable renewable supply and increased but variable demand will require, as outlined in the RS Large scale electricity Storage Report, substantial stores of energy (~50 to 100 TWh), with bulk storage of green hydrogen being the cheapest option.

“The Royal Society urges all countries involved to increase their efforts to transition away from fossil fuels for the overall benefit of humanity.”


Prof Alan Dangour, Director of Climate and Health at Wellcome, said:

“The COP28 UAE consensus to transition away from fossil fuels is a significant step to save lives worldwide. It represents a united global demand around the world for urgent action to protect human health and halt the climate crisis. For this agreement to truly be seen as a historic turning point, there is work to do. Inaction will cost millions of lives.

“Health was present at COP28 like never before, and it’s a vital part of the climate conversation. The science is clear, the climate crisis is a health crisis. Research shows a transition to renewable energy will save at least 5.1 million lives each year, through reduction in air pollution alone. Now we must build on the momentum from the first ever Health Day at COP to garner bolder, faster and healthier climate action, particularly for those on the frontline experiencing the worst effects of climate change.

“At Wellcome, we look forward working with UN Climate Change, global leaders and the wider climate and health community to increase understanding of the links between climate change and human health. Global collaboration to continue building evidence of the huge health risks posed by the climate crisis, and the health benefits of climate action is vital on the road to Baku, Belém and beyond.”


Prof Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester, said:

“No doubt there will be lots of cheer and back-slapping among many pontificators and even some climate ‘experts’, but the physics will not care. As the new agreement locks in high levels of emissions for years to come, so the temperature will continue to rise.

“To add a bit of science and maths to this harsh assessment, we have between five and eight years of current emissions before we blow through the carbon budget for just a flip-of-a-coin chance of not exceeding 1.5°C. Even if we seriously began to cut emissions from the start of 2024, and there’s no such requirement in the new text, then we’d still need zero fossil fuel use, globally, by around 2040. Throw in a few years of political and technical inertia as we pivot from rising to rapidly falling emissions, and we’re really talking about eliminating fossil fuels by the mid 2030s. This is far removed from the fraudulent language of net zero by 2050.

“So, what about “well below 2°C”? Well, to start, this means far more severe climate impacts and a significant risk that we’ll trigger various planetary scale feedbacks or tipping points. In terms of global emissions, we would still require cuts from January 2024 of over 5% year on year. Put another way, if all nations deliver on their emission-reduction pledges (NDCs), then in 2030 the remaining carbon budget for 2°C will be similar to what we have left for a 50:50 chance of 1.5°C today; a budget many/most analysts consider is no longer viable.

“The climate challenge we face today is 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide harder than it was last year, and around one third of a trillion tonnes more difficult than at the time of the Paris Agreement. COP28 might well have been appropriate if it had taken place in 2000, but in 2023 it falls far short of our Paris temperature and equity commitments. The time for polish, rhetoric and applause is long gone. We face a climate emergency that the COP process appears simply unwilling or unable to address.”


Prof Richard Lucas at Aberystwyth University said:

“Whilst COP28 has agreed to transition away from fossil fuels to achieve net zero by 2050, there are still substantial emissions ongoing for the foreseeable future which will require substantive efforts by current future generations to remove these greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. 

“Restoring ecosystems, and particularly forests, will really only capture the carbon lost through decades and indeed centuries of ecosystem loss and degradation.  Whilst sinks for carbon can be enhanced, these will not be sufficient to remove the additional burden of carbon already in the atmosphere and what is going up there from today.   A concerted approach using all options (including carbon capture) is essential. 

“There is also an urgent need to develop capacity to develop not only mapping and monitoring capability of the Earth’s natural and human influenced environments but also to ensure effective, co-designed and more transparent,  coordinated and ongoing planning of the Earth’s environment at a global scale but with local relevance.   Earth observation data have and will continue to play a key role in this and education to inform on this capability is essential going forward.”


Prof Bill Collins, Professor of Climate Processes at the University of Reading, said:

“It was essential that at last the COP statement recognised the need to reduce fossil fuel use. The IPCC stated in 2021 that deep, rapid and sustained reductions in emissions are essential to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Currently we are on a pathway that would lead to nearly 3 degrees of warming. To achieve the 1.5 degree goal, emissions need to be halved by 2030. So, while the words from the COP are welcome, it is concrete actions by counties that are needed. We know what needs to be done in terms of decarbonising our energy, transport and heating, but little sign that this is being treated with the urgency indicated by the IPCC. It is up to us all now to decide what sort of world we want to live in, and time is rapidly running out.”


Prof Joeri Rogelj, Professor of Climate Science & Policy and Director of Research, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment, said:

“The outcome of COP28 in Dubai is a marked improvement over earlier versions but remains a mixed bag. The COP28 decision includes a clear indication that the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels starting this decade. That is a welcome message for a climate summit presided by an oil executive. Also the recognition that global greenhouse gas emissions have to peak before 2025 is in line with the science of keeping warming well below 2°C and preferably to 1.5°C. At the same time, however, the COP28 outcome only describes partial measures in very vague and non-committal terms. This leaves lots of room for interpretation which will have to be dealt with in the years to come. While the COP28 outcome is a step in the right direction, it is also a hesitant and insufficient step. It is far from clear that this will keep global warming within the safety limits set out by the Paris Agreement.”


Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) Director Prof Nicholas Owens:

“The worrying signs of the marine heatwaves reported during 2023 are dramatic evidence that even the vastness of the ocean is not immune from climate change. So SAMS is very pleased that finally the root cause has been acknowledged in the COP process.  While the wording of the agreement could have been stronger the first step in any journey is the hardest but most important.”


Prof Paul Palmer, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This is a landmark agreement in many ways — not least the acknowledgement that all countries on our planet need to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels — but we need to move harder and faster than ever before to make this a reality. We need to unlock the necessary finance and to do a better job at using it in a more equitable way, independent on short-term government decision-making. While it is an agreement that is disappointing to many, it remains an opportunity we should grab firmly with both hands.”


Prof Gulcin Ozkan, Professor of Finance at King’s College London, said:

“While it is encouraging that there is a call for a global move away from fossil fuels for the first time, the final declaration falls short on many levels. First, it is vague with no timeframe hence the process can potentially take a very long time. Second, there is no clear commitment regarding financial support to the less developed countries in their transition. Finally, and surprisingly, there is no mention of a net zero target for methane emissions which, during the first week’s discussions, looked like it was definitely going to happen.”


Dr George Adamson, Reader in Climate and Society, King’s College London, said:

“The text of the stocktake at COP28 is historic in that it imagines a future without fossil fuels. This is significant as the text does not merely outline the challenges of the present, but points towards a different future. These challenges remain substantial, as the text itself recognises. Yet I hope that countries, organisations and individuals now raise to the ambitions that the stocktake lays out, with further work to imagine new futures and new ways to reach them. Decarbonisation must be a race to the top, not to the bottom.”


Dr Leslie-Anne Duvic-Paoli, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law at King’s College London, said:

“The COP decision, by calling for a transition away from fossil fuels, constitutes a substantial achievement: it explicitly recognises the measures necessary to achieve the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. It is a success in diplomatic work, it manages to find a consensus between countries with vastly different interests and priorities while accommodating diverging interpretations of the text. Despite a weak wording – an invitation to transition away from fossil fuel, the reference carries significant weight, serving as a clear indication of the direction governments and industry must follow to build a net zero world.”


Energy and climate policy specialist Dr Colin Nolden, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, said:

“Tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency capacity are crucial to facilitating the phase down of coal and the transition away from fossil fuels in energy system. While the statement that ‘abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage’ should be accelerated leaves a loophole for abated fossil fuel technologies, it brings on board countries such as Saudi Arabia with their very high fossil fuel dependence, not just for power generation but also as the foundation of their entire economic prosperity.

“Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, which according to the IMF amount to $7tn per year, or 7.1% of GDP, and instead investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as abatement in hard-to-treat sectors and eventually removals to account for historical emissions, would rapidly transition our energy systems away from highly polluting fossil fuels towards. If these global efforts come to fruition, 1.5 degrees is still alive!”


Dr Emma Lawrance, Climate Cares Lead and Mental Health Lead at Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London, said:

“The COP negotiations are ultimately negotiating human health and wellbeing – mental and physical. Though as I have heard here in Dubai, health should be non-negotiable.

“Until the world moves away from burning coal, oil and gas – in a fast, fair, funded manner – the impacts on human health will continue to multiply.

“It is encouraging that physical and mental health has featured so strongly at COP28, including with the first health day. It is critical that health is the ultimate measure for progress on the climate crisis and a just transition.

“It’s encouraging that the elephant in the room – fossil fuels – is finally being named, with delegates noting a stronger focus on humanity and science.

“However, unless developed countries lead the way in delivering emission cuts and the fair funding structures other countries need to act, the cost of inaction will be lives, and quality of life.

“I hope history shows that COP28 accelerated the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era, towards a fairer, cleaner, healthier future that is better for us all.”


Dr Kevin Collins, Senior Lecturer Environment & Systems, The Open University, said:

“After days of deliberations and real concerns the talks might fail, COP28 has agreed that there needs to be a ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels’ to maintain any hope of meeting a 1.5C target.   Although not the hoped for and stronger ‘phasing out’, the agreement is widely seen as a step in the right direction as it is the first time COP ‘stock take’ agreements have even mentioned fossil fuels.  But for some nations and negotiating blocks, such as the Alliance of Small Island States who are on the frontline of climate change as sea levels rise, the agreement is permission for powerful oil producing countries and nations with developed economies to delay action with no timeline or commitments.  In welcoming the agreement, the remarks of the COP chair: ‘we are what we do, not what we say’ may still come to haunt many of the delegates and us all. 

“The agreement is only focussed on energy systems and says nothing about methane – a very powerful greenhouse gas –  arising from agriculture.  Focusing on energy systems alone suggests that a more systemic view of global warming has yet to emerge and be represented in the COP agreements.”


Dr Alaa Al Khourdajie, Research Fellow at Imperial College London, said:

“The COP28 decision, while acknowledging the necessity of phasing down unabated coal and moving towards net zero emissions energy systems, falls short to comprehensively address fossil fuel usage. The distinction between ‘abated’ and ‘unabated’ fossil fuels is crucial, yet remains ambiguous. This lack of clarity can lead to the continuation of fossil fuel reliance under the guise of ‘abated’ usage. Such an approach is inconsistent with the scientific consensus on the urgency of drastically reducing fossil fuel consumption to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

“The lack of a clear distinction between ‘abated’ and ‘unabated’ fossil fuels in the COP28 text represents a significant missed opportunity. This ambiguity allows for a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘abated’ fossil fuels. Such a misinterpretation could result in continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, thereby diverting resources from more sustainable energy solutions. By not explicitly defining these terms, COP28 misses the chance to set a firm, scientifically-backed benchmark for fossil fuel usage.

“While COP28’s invitation for the IPCC to align its future reports with the global stocktake and to prepare a special report by 2026 demonstrates a commitment to aligning policy decisions with the latest scientific evidence and assessments, this alone is not sufficient. It is essential that these reports serve not only as informative tools but also directly influence policy making, something not evident in COP28’s outcome.”


Dr Kilaparti Ramakrishna, Director of Marine Policy Center and Senior Advisor to the President on Ocean and Climate Policy at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, (and formerly a Lead Author of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment), said:

“The Global Stocktake’s acknowledgement of the importance of a healthy ocean to helping humanity mitigate and adapt to climate change is heartening. However, the text lacks necessary emphasis on ending fossil fuel use in an orderly and timely manner to avoid long-term disruption of the ocean’s ability to support all life on Earth. While the news for the ocean from COP28 is guardedly positive, we can and must do better, for the sake of those living in island nations and low-lying regions and for the sake of meeting the Paris Agreement goal.”


Prof Richard Allan of the University of Reading said:

“The science is clear but negotiating how to fairly, justly and rapidly transition away from fossil fuel use is not – the COP28 agreement though inadequate is an essential and sustained baby step towards the goal of limiting human caused climate change.”


Prof Martin Siegert, Professor of Geosciences and Deputy VC at the University of Exeter, said:

“The Polar Regions are heating much faster than the rest of the planet – the Arctic four time and the Antarctic twice as much. Protecting these pristine environments will limit global sea level, keep the planet from accelerated further heating and maintain the precious ecosystem. The only way to do this is to stop fossil-fuel burning and limit global warming to 1.5C. The science is perfectly clear. COP28, by not making a clear declaration to STOP fossil fuel burning in line with scientific evidence to do so is a tragedy for the poles, the planet and our future. While it’s good that COP28 has stated that fossil fuels need to reduce, the agreement on doing so is very weak. The COP28 agreement encourages countries to move away using fossil fuels, but not to ‘phase out’ or even ‘phase down’ their use. Clearly the wording is all that could be agreed at this stage, which is itself a disappointment. The world is heating faster and more powerfully than the COP response to deal with it.

“Cop28 was a small step forward when the science told us we needed a giant leap – and the climate is getting hotter while we continue to debate what to do.”


Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, Chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial and Professor at Reading University, said:

“Transitioning away from fossil fuels” is a good way to break the impasse that had been reached on phasing them out or down.  It is a good step forward, particularly when an oil & gas country had the leadership of COP. The real test will be whether the countries of the world will act on it.


Prof Jonathan Bamber, Professor of glaciology and Earth Observation at the University of Bristol, said:

“The UK and EU declared a climate emergency back in 2019 but the deal agreed at COP28 this week lacks any sense of urgency, no formal timetable and no commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and it’s unclear when that will change. While the deal offers a step in the right direction, it is far away from what we need to avoid dangerous, disruptive climate breakdown.”


Dr James Dyke, from the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, said:

“COP28 needed to deliver an unambiguous statement about the rapid phase out of fossil fuels. That would represent a rupture from previous COPs and business as usual – which is what is needed now, given record-breaking global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, that did not happen. While the agreement’s call for the need to transition away from fossil fuels is welcome, it has numerous caveats and loopholes that risks rendering it meaningless when it comes to our efforts to limit warming to well below 2°C. That this deal has been hailed as a landmark is more a measure of previous failures than any step change when it comes to the increasingly urgent need to rapidly stop burning coal, oil and gas.”


Dr Phil Williamson, Honorary Associate Professor in Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia said:

“The final COP28 outcome represents modest political progress, recognising what has been scientifically obvious for at least 30 years”.


Prof Chris Hilson, Director of the Centre for Climate and Justice at the University of Reading, said:

“Language matters. So a transition away from fossil fuels is not a phasing out. But actions speak louder than words. What is really important now is that governments around the world take immediate policy action to implement a transition away from coal, oil and gas. That involves practical things like ruling out new fossil fuel developments, redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to renewables, improving EV infrastructure, insulating homes and much else besides. To paraphrase Marx, the point is not only to talk about the world but to change it.”


Prof Grant Allen at the University of Manchester said:

“This pledge is a very welcome start. We have to remember that this is a world-first, albeit perhaps overdue. This announcement paves the road ahead for more definitive action. Would it be good to have gone further right now? Yes, but I see this as a big step forward as it will frame the work of COP from here on. I hope that the pledge creates a greater sense of urgency from here to ensure the agreed transition happens at pace.”


Prof Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“CoP28 has recognised the start of a new beginning. Congratulations.  It’s either fossil fuel phase down and out, or human civilisations down and out.

“Supply of carbon from geological sources into the atmosphere needs to be balanced by carbon storage returning into the underground.

“Relying on vast rollout of Carbon Capture and Storage plus Greenhouse Gas Removal technologies is not enough.

“Supply of carbon fuels and feedstock needs to decrease rapidly – as proposed by CoP28.  But also demand and consumption of unabated carbon fuels by rich nations needs to decrease rapidly – this is not yet tackled by CoP

“Increasing rates of global heating mean that this consumption challenge is 50 years too late, and will still be a challenge in 2024 onwards.

Future CoP29 and CoP30 must toughen and continue this phase out momentum, and consider progressing with majority coalitions if some states choose not to participate in rapid phase down and out.”


Dr Raphaëlle Haywood, from the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, said:

“The final report from COP28 is disappointing, but it does not change reality: we need to phase out fossil fuels now regardless of the words on the page. The era of fossil fuels is over.”


Prof Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey said:

“As polar scientists we can see that climate change is now affecting both polar regions faster than we ever expected. The COP announcement is a welcome step forward in that it mentions fossil fuels for the first time but it’s a small step when we should be taking giant strides at speed to keep to 1.5°C.”


Dr Ella Gilbert, a climate scientist at British Antarctic Survey said:

“The COP28 agreement finally puts into words what scientists have been saying for decades – that continued fossil fuel use must be eliminated to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. 

2023 has given us a taste of what is to come and demonstrates how urgently we must act. While this eleventh-hour intervention is welcome, it will not be strong enough to avoid the worst impacts, including ice loss from the polar regions and devastating extreme events.”


Dr Louise Sime, an expert on tipping points at British Antarctic Survey said:

“Whilst this is another step in the right direction, it still feels like there is a long way to go to tackle carbon emissions in a way that is fair and equitable – and rapid enough. Our research in Antarctica continues to highlight worrying changes in this fragile region.”


Climate scientist Prof Daniela Schmidt, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, said:

“Every group at the table at CO28 knows that burning fossil fuels causes the world to warm with consequences. They accepted this when they accepted the Summary for Policy Makers of the 6th Assessment cycle of the IPCC. The wording does not force action and delaying change further is indefensible. Pretending that reducing emissions by 2050 is enough ignores the dangerous, life-threatening consequences of our anthropogenic heating of the planet.

“There are still trillions in subsidies given every year to fossil fuel industries who make money for their shareholders ignoring the consequences. Why is that money not redirected to help communities adapt, reduce vulnerability, create justice, and change the way we live? We know how to use such investment to improve air quality, green our cities, and provide decentral energy for those who have none.”


Dr Matt Palmer, Associate Professor of Climate Science at the University of Bristol, said:

“Many of us will have mixed feelings about the outcomes of COP28. The agreed text is not as strong as we could have hoped for in terms of a fossil fuel phase out.

“However, there are clear short-term goals, such as to peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. These short-term goals are critical to promote effective action. Regardless of text details, the imperative remains to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible to limit the impacts of climate change risks for this, and many future generations.”


Energy and climate policy specialist Dr Colin Nolden, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, said:

“Tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency capacity are crucial to facilitating the phase down of coal and the transition away from fossil fuels in energy system. While the statement that ‘abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage’ should be accelerated leaves a loophole for abated fossil fuel technologies, it brings on board countries such as Saudi Arabia with their very high fossil fuel dependence, not just for power generation but also as the foundation of their entire economic prosperity.

“Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, which according to the IMF amount to $7tn per year, or 7.1% of GDP, and instead investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as abatement in hard-to-treat sectors and eventually removals to account for historical emissions, would rapidly transition our energy systems away from highly polluting fossil fuels towards. If these global efforts come to fruition, 1.5 degrees is still alive!”


Dr Rob Bellamy, Lecturer in Climate and Society at the University of Manchester, said

“Never before have the world’s countries come together and agreed to move away from fossil fuels. This historic agreement is testament to the voluntary architecture of the Paris Agreement, which has made tackling climate change much more effective and easier to agree upon. But keeping global warming to well below two degrees is going to be a tall order. What we’re going to need now is rapid – but responsible – implementation of options for reducing emissions, adapting to impacts, and removing carbon from the air. We may even need to consider solar geoengineering in the event of overshooting our temperature targets. In a way, the biggest challenge we face is recognising that we’re going to have to do lots of things – even those that we as individuals don’t like.”


Dr Katharina Richter, a specialist in decolonial environmental politics and equitable development at the University of Bristol, said:

“The climate deal agreed on at COP28 names fossil fuels as the driver for climate change for the first time, which is a historical achievement. But we can clearly see the influence of those who profit from their production. The agreement emphasises the role of low and zero emission technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) – an expensive, and as of yet underdeveloped technology. We cannot put all of our eggs into a phantom CCS basket. We need multi-scalar political action aimed at phasing down fossil fuels. Fortunately, some of the measures that will get us there are mentioned in the final agreement, such as phasing out fossil fuel subsidies that have no clear social purpose, and tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030. While the final agreement mentions absolute emission reduction targets, it does not push developed countries enough towards embracing sufficiency-based strategies, as was recommended in the 2022 Climate Change Mitigation Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Another big achievement of this COP28 is the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage fund, agreed on last year in Sharm El Sheikh. The purpose of the fund is to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change in responding to the economic and non-economic losses and damages arising from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, climate-related displacement and migration. The World Bank will be interim hosting fund, reflecting Northern Atlantic geopolitical interest. However, the draft decision is clear that the body will be governed by an independent secretariat. Climate vulnerable communities need access to climate finance and loss and damage payments today, rather than tomorrow. So setting up the fund over the next year in a way that facilitates easy financial access for those groups will be crucial.”


Dr Karen Tucker, a specialist in the politics of indigenous knowledge at the University of Bristol, said:

“Indigenous peoples have long been calling for recognition of Indigenous rights and knowledge systems in climate negotiations, and for concrete mechanisms that allow them to address the impacts of climate change in their territories.

“Although there’s some useful language in the decisions about Indigenous peoples’ leadership, world views and rights, they don’t address Indigenous calls for direct access to the new Loss and Damage Fund, and to be trusted to administer climate finance funds themselves. Neither do they oblige states to engage with Indigenous peoples or respect Indigenous collective rights as they develop and implement climate policy.”


Prof Richard Beardsworth, Professor of International Politics, University of Leeds said:

“COP28 was billed as a ‘fossil fuel’ COP, with a strong political response to the Global Stocktake required.. The politics among the parties/countries has been complex and the resulting cover decision is underwhelming. That said, clear reference to the “transition from fossil fuels” frames henceforth all national ambition and action (the NDCs). Planned and simultaneous management of the decline of fossil fuels and of the acceleration of renewable is now on the political agenda.”


Dr Radhika Khosla, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford:

“Sustainable cooling was a COP28 success story. 63 countries signed a pledge to cut their emissions from cooling systems by 68% by 2050. This was the first international commitment to target emissions from air-conditioning and refrigeration for food and medicine. Signatories included several G20 countries, including the US and Canada, where nearly three-quarters of the potential for cutting cooling-related emissions by 2050 resides. Cooling is now firmly on the global agenda. But the hard work must now begin to ensure everyone can stay cool without further heating the planet.”


Dr Leslie Mabon, Lecturer in Environmental Systems at the Open University, said:

“A lot of the blame for slow-walking these climate talks and watering down the final text will rightly be placed on the major oil-producing states. However, the outcome is also a wake-up call for wealthier and historically high-emitting nations. Countries like the UK, the USA and those in the European Union need to walk the walk on climate change if they want to be seen as credible climate leaders globally. This means showing leadership by reducing our own production of and demand for fossil fuels. It also means providing the least wealthy nations with meaningful finance to develop clean technology, adapt to the climate impacts we are already locked into, and receive compensation for losses and damages.”


Kaya Axelsson, Net Zero Policy Engagement Fellow, University of Oxford:

“Watching live from the plenary floor it is striking to see how many are emphasizing and embracing a common departure from a fossil fuel economy. It is the first time oil and gas has been included in an agreed text in nearly three decades since the UNFCCC was founded (the year I was born).

“That it’s taken almost 30 years to have a serious conversation about fossil fuels demonstrates the political might of the industry. But by the same logic, the fact that we are now talking about hardly anything else shows that tides are turning, even as an oil producing nation holds the pen.

“The line we have all been waiting for on the phase out of fossil fuels has arrived in a new form: The text: “calls on parties to contribute to… transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner…

“Contribute to” is less strong than a word like “require,” and “transition away” is weaker than “phase out,” but this still represents an historic signal that the fossil fuel era is coming to a close.”


Prof Gabi Hegerl, Professor of Climate System Science, University of Edinburgh, said:

“We have recently seen severe and record shattering extreme events, many linked to climate change – particularly extreme heat on land and in the sea, and heavy rainfall. It is a relief COP arrived at language calling for a transition away from fossil fuel use. I am very concerned about the future if we do not manage to stay near 1.5 degrees, so of course I wish there was even stronger language but this a positive move.”


Dr Elena Cantarello, Principal Academic in Sustainability Science at Bournemouth University said:

“We should not be thinking just about the negotiating outcome. Yes, it is hugely disappointing to see how a very small number of countries have been able to put short term national interests ahead of the future of people and nature, however, it was hugely positive to see so many bold collaborations being established including the food system declaration which for the first time will require countries to consider food in their national determined contributions.”


Prof Mike Berners-Lee of Lancaster University said:

‘COP 28 is the fossil fuel industry’s dream outcome, because it looks like progress, but it isn’t’.


Prof Myles Allen FRS, Professor of Geosystem Sciences at the University of Oxford, and Director of Oxford Net Zero, said:

“So, COP28 has just called for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. Is this the moment that the world finally decided to hit the brakes, even if ever so gently, on fossil-fuelled global warming?

“The last COP I attended in this region was COP18, in Doha, 2012. There I was, talking about some recent papers claiming that 50-80% reductions would not be enough, and that to stop global warming, carbon dioxide emissions would need to be reduced to net zero. A very experienced negotiator asked me quizzically if this research had been peer-reviewed (it had: ours was one of half-a-dozen papers that appeared in 2009 making much the same point), and then saying “ah yes, but it has not been assessed by IPCC”, in a relieved note-to-self voice of someone who didn’t need to worry about it.

“Ten COPs later, and the much-criticised UAE Presidency has pulled this off, in the first ten seconds of the final plenary session. Given that fossil fuels were only mentioned in a COP decision text for the first time two years ago, and everyone seemed ready to write COP28 off just 24 hours ago, you have to hand it to them.

“Of course, it leaves questions unanswered. Does “energy systems” include transport (particularly relevant as I sit in Dubai airport)? What is “net zero” actually referring to (emissions, presumably, but which ones)? But “in keeping with the science” of “1.5°C pathways” doesn’t leave a whole lot of wriggle room.

“What ultimately matters, as the COP President Sultan Al Jaber likes to remind everyone, is not COP declarations and pledges, but what governments (and, of course, companies, universities and all the rest of us) actually do. On this, many will be relieved the text prioritises “transitioning away from fossil fuels”, but will also be worried that further down it talks of “abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilisation and storage.” Does this text leave the door open to a future in which we just carry on using fossil fuels and reinject the carbon dioxide they generate back into the earth’s crust?

“There has been a heated debate about carbon capture and storage (CCS — the “utilisation” is a bit of a side-show – what really matters for climate is where the carbon dioxide ends up) and “abated” fossil fuels at COP28, including – and perhaps particularly — within the Oxford University delegation. Should we be calling for “phase out of fossil fuels” or (Sultan Al Jaber’s preferred wording), “phase out of fossil fuel emissions”? But what is remarkable is how much everyone agrees.

“IPCC and IEA 1.5C scenarios consistently indicate what should be obvious to everyone anyway. We will generate more CO2 from burning fossil fuels than we can afford to dump in the atmosphere, so we need to scale up safe and permanent CO2 disposal, which right now means CCS and, later on, direct air capture with CCS (despite the UK government’s enthusiasm for Drax, I’m personally unconvinced that bioenergy with CCS will ever play a huge role because of the true cost of land).

“So, as a matter of topology, not any model, we will still be using fossil fuels, fully abated, meaning 100% capture or recapture and permanent disposal of all the CO2 they generate, at the time we achieve durable net zero emissions. The only argument is how much.

“The 1.5°C scenarios indicate around 10-30% of current usage at the date of net zero: coal almost entirely phased out, and roughly half current oil and gas consumption, all compensated for, or “fully abated”, with CCS at source or carbon dioxide recapture from the atmosphere. That is a vast and global carbon dioxide disposal industry, 100 to 300 times larger than the 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that we currently dispose of every year. So, we need to scale up CCS by at least two orders of magnitude – far more, in percentage terms, that we need to scale up many other low-carbon technologies. Claims that we can solve the problem without CCS risk discouraging this essential investment.

“That said, I understand that people are concerned that CCS might be used by the fossil fuel industry to compete with renewables for investment and subsidies. It shouldn’t. They serve different purposes. The point of CCS is to stop fossil fuel use from causing global warming. The point of renewables is to deliver our energy needs in a world where fossil energy is scarce and expensive because we need to get rid of the carbon dioxide it generates.

“Safe carbon dioxide disposal should just be a requirement of the sale or use of fossil fuels. Of course, that will make them more expensive, encouraging people to use them more efficiently and switch to renewables. But as governments at COP28 have recognised, whatever happens now, we need to fix fossil fuels before we phase them out.”


Prof Peter Childs, Co-Director of the Energy Futures Lab, Imperial College London, said:

“This COP needed to signal a pragmatic roadmap for the end of the fossil fuel era. There are some positives to take away; it was encouraging to see over 100 countries pledging to triple renewable capacity by 2030. We now need to see affordable and inclusive plans to make that vision a reality. If the pledge is to have any credibility, national governments need to act quickly to remove the regulatory and planning barriers to sustainability and address the supply chain issues that are currently hampering renewable energy developments around the world.”


Dr Alix Dietzel, Senior Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Bristol Cabot, said:

“After significant pressure, fossil fuels made it back into the COP28 agreement. No phase-down but a just transition away from fossil fuels mentioned for the first time in a UN text.

“For me, this is the biggest moment since the Paris Agreement – even if it is weaker language than I’d hoped. Of course, it would have been ideal to have finance in place for those countries who need help with the transition. And, as we all know these outcome documents are not legally binding. So, it remains to be seen if the world takes the necessary action.

“Even still, these moments of good news are so rare at the global governance level that I will be taking a prolonged moment to take it in.”


Dr Lisa Schipper, Professor of Development Geography at the University of Bonn, said:

“The COP started with a bang when the loss and damage fund was agreed, but over the course of the meeting, the lack of funding flowing into it became a major source of disappointment. If anything, this continues to be the big weakness,

“An early statement by the COP President about the lack of science behind phasing out fossil fuels sent shockwaves to scientists, especially those who had contributed to the IPCC AR6, since the science in the report is so clear that fossil fuels need to be phased out to prevent a point of no return.

“Calling the COP a failure suggests that there is an alternative pathway for a global plan to address climate change, but there is no other format than the UNFCCC that gives every country in the world a seat at the table.”


Stephanie Baxter, Head of Policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said:

“We are pleased that COP28 has agreed a new deal to move away from fossil fuels.  But there still needs to be a clear timescale for phasing out fossil fuels completely.  Low lying islands will be amongst the first to suffer from rising sea levels, but climate change affects everyone.  We are already feeling the effects of rising temperatures, and the impact on lives, wellbeing and economies will only deteriorate if action is delayed or watered down.  We have the engineering and technological capabilities to deliver. We urge the international community to stick to previous commitments to limit global heating to 1.5°C.  All our futures depend on it.”


Prof Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts, University of Exeter and Met Office Hadley Centre

“The first global stocktake quotes lots of sound science highlighting the severity of the situation we are in, and this is to be applauded. However, it’s worrying that the Dubai negotiations went ahead on the basis of a misunderstanding of how close we are now to reaching 1.5°C global warming. The text gives observed warming as “about 1.1°C”, but this is already out of date – the actual current global warming level is about 1.3°C. While this is clearly not the main reason why the agreement falls short of what is needed, it may have contributed to a reduced sense of urgency.”


Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of the Centre for Climate Repair and Director of Research at Cambridge Zero, said:

”We must first appreciate the momentous acknowledgement at the end of a COP for the first time that ‘countries will transition away from fossil fuels’. Whilst this is very positive news, there are many challenges ahead and it is disappointing that it has taken 28 COPs to get us this far. And of course it is all about what countries do, not just what they say. Actions, not words.

“Furthermore, let’s be clear, the IPCC definition of 1.5C is not about keeping us below that target; it is about getting there by the end of the century even if we sail through that notional target mid-century. I am greatly concerned that the current plans see us embarking on this route. When we know that crossing the 1.5 threshold will lead to increased risks of breaching tipping points, why are we not talking more about plans to actually keep us below that level from hereon? There is much to be done.”


Prof Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Managament at the University of Edinburgh and Co-chair of the Just Transition Commission, said:

“Make no mistake, this is real progress on the road to consigning the fossil fuels to history. All nations will now need to look again at their national actions on climate change and up their ambitions by 2025 in a way that delivers global alignment with the Paris climate goals. The tripling of renewable energy will be central to this, but so too will be the overt commitment to a just transition. Sultan Al-Jaber has achieved the near impossible in bringing everyone with him in Dubai. It’s now for all nations to ensure that, in the individual and collective action they take on climate change, no one on Earth is left behind.”


Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, said:

“Another COP circus extravaganza has ended with yet more documents offering little substance. Its modicum of progress was needed, and was known to be needed, more than a generation ago. COP has become a distraction from, not momentum toward, effective action. For addressing human-caused climate change and, in tandem, all other sustainability aspects, we have achieved much more outside of COP.”


Prof Hugh Hunt, Cambridge University Department of Engineering, said:

“The UN has shown itself to have failed on governance of carbon emissions.  But outside of the formal negotiation process, elsewhere in the Blue and Green zones there was a lot going on.  In particular, on the prospect of Climate Repair (aka geoengineering) there were many young people, for example Operaation Arktis from Finland and SRM Youth Watch who organized events to discuss research and governance of geoengineering.  They see the urgency of Climate Repair, and they are twenty-year-olds.

“There is enormous cause for optimism!  It would be the ultimate irony if the UN can achieve governance of geoengineering when it hasn’t managed governance of fossil fuel emissions.”



Declared interests

Richard Betts receives funding from the UK government through the Met Office Hadley centre Climate Programme

Ilan Kelman: No interests to declare.

Dave Reay: No interests declared

Alex Dietzel: no interests to declare

All BAS scientists – no interests to declare

Raphaëlle Haywood – no interests to declare

Matt Palmer – no interests

Katharine Richter – No interests to declare

Stuart Haszeldine – No conflicting interests to declare

Grant Allen holds NERC funding to quantify greenhouse gases from human and natural sources.

Phil Williamson: No interests to declare.

James Dyke receives funding from the Open Society Foundations. He is an advisor to Faculty for a Future.

Mike Berners-Lee: No interests to declare.

Jonathan Bamber: No interests declared

Leslie Mabon: No interests to declare.

Dr Elena Cantarello: No interests to declare.

Brian Hoskins: No interests to declare

Rob Bellamy: No interests to declare.         

Paul Palmer: No interests to declare.

Bill Collins: No interests to declare.

Colin Nolden: no interests to declare.

Kilaparti Ramakrishna – no conflicts of interest.

George Adamson – No declaration of interest.

Kevin Collins – no conflicts of interest.

Adrian Smith – No interests to declare.

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.


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