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Published on 13 December 2023

A fast, fair & forever phase out of fossil fuels needed to prevent climate chaos

Fossil fuels
After three decades of climate negotiations the COP28 agreement has finally pointed to the elephant in the room and placed a spotlight on fossil fuels. This is an important signal, but the fact that merely recognising the problem is lauded as historic shows how far we still have to go. Political leadership still lags miles behind scientific reality.

Prolonging global inaction on phasing out fossil fuels risks a runaway train scenario, where global temperature continues to rise, driving ever more frequent and intense climate disasters as well as skyrocketing loss and damage costs. The world’s poorest communities, who have done least to cause this crisis and have least resources to react, will continue to be disproportionately impacted.  

The science is clear and non-negotiable. If we want to achieve the 1.5C goal and prevent climate chaos there must be a fast, fair and forever phase out of all fossil fuels. Anything less simply won’t cut it. The loopholes in the text and references during negotiations to speculative, unproven and expensive technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage show that many states – still in the process of approving new licenses for fossil fuel extraction – remain wedded to the status quo.

The key to unlocking this transition is finance. The COP28 text commits to tripling renewable energy capacity globally but has very little concrete detail on where the resources to do this will come from. That’s a big missed opportunity. The world’s wealthiest, highest-emitting countries have up to now failed to adequately deliver long-pledged financial support, and without clear targets and timelines that is unlikely to change. This needs to be an urgent focus in the year ahead to COP 29.

This is also true for adaptation and for Loss and Damage. If we want to ensure that people are protected from climate impacts and supported to rebuild when disasters do strike, we need adequate and predictable finance. It was really welcome to see hard-fought agreement on the Loss and Damage fund so early in this COP, but the estimated $700m of pledges made so far are only a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of what’s needed. 

As set out in our research published earlier this year, The Cost of Inaction – Ireland’s fair share of Loss & Damage finance, academic estimates for loss and damage costs in developing countries rise to €530 billion by 2030. Or to look at one specific example: insurer Aon estimates that Cyclone Freddy caused $655m in damages when it hit a small number of Southern African countries in February and March this year. That would see the fund as it stands emptied by a single cyclone.

The fund’s lack of defined scope and predictability are also cause for concern. The fund is voluntary, with no obligation to pay in and there is no overarching target to work towards. Unless there is a concerted effort to urgently raise the hundreds of billions needed, there is a real risk that the fund will be ineffective and this process will lose credibility in the eyes of those most reliant on it. We urge Ireland and EU Governments in particular to work to establish a fund that is adequately resourced and to set out timelines to delivering their fair share of funding.

The key now is to recognise that despite the shortcomings in this text, this only sets the floor of global ambition. The real work of lowering emissions and raising revenue to pay for climate action will take both international and national action well above this line. It is essential that Ireland shows ambition here, in particular on pushing for new innovative and additional sources of finance – including fairer taxation of corporate profits, extreme wealth and fossil fuel production, and new levies on aviation and shipping.