The UAE Consensus – Misleading & Underachieving

By Natalie Nowatzke, J.D. Candidate 2024, University of Maine School of Law 

December 13, 2023 

As soon as I landed in Toronto, my layover between Dubai and Boston, I started receiving notification after notification on my phone. A deal had been reached at COP28, resulting in what is called the UAE Consensus. The COP Presidency is calling it “an enhanced, balanced, and historic package to accelerate climate action” as it contains “an unprecedented reference to transitioning away from all fossil fuels.” Other news outlets have referred to the decision as a “landmark,” “historic,” and “groundbreaking” deal.

Although the UAE Consensus is the first time an agreement of this kind explicitly mentions fossil fuels, it is not the win that many want us to believe. The boasted language regarding fossil fuels comes from the final version of the Global Stocktake, and reads as follows:

Further recognizes the need for deep, rapid and sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 °C pathways and calls on Parties to contribute to the following global efforts, in a nationally determined manner, taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances pathways and approaches: 

. . . 

(d) 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. 

While this agreement containing “fossil fuels” in the text is a step forward, the adjectives being used to describe it are contrary to science and a disservice to the public. 

The science is clear and has been for decades. Climate change is causing unprecedented global temperature rise, and 2 °C of warming is a “critical threshold” for abating severe and irreversible effects. Global surface temperature has already risen 1.1 °C, with global emissions continuing to increase. Even worse, we know that the production and burning of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to this warming, and “CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructures without additional abatement already exceed the remaining carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5 °C.”

Thus, this language is too little, too late to meaningfully mitigate climate change. The use of vague verbs, such as “calls” and “transitioning” are practically meaningless in the face of impending disasters from climate change. The audacity to say, “in keeping with the science,” while ignoring the pleas of countless scientists, and those of us that are capable of listening to them, is particularly infuriating. The Earth cannot withstand this pace of crawling progress, especially in this critical time. 

Although I am frustrated and disappointed with the adopted Global Stocktake, I am not leaving COP28 with only these emotions. I found motivation to continue to advocate for the necessary changes we need in the face of climate change all around me at COP28. We had the opportunity to meet with Tzeporah Berman, founder of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, Dr. Susanna Hancock, a fierce climate researcher and policy specialist, and many U.S. officials who are working to better U.S. policies. We listened to panels that presented innovative policy solutions and new technology, from advocates, leaders, and scientists from all around the world. Particularly inspiring was watching and hearing from countless youth as they bravely advocated for our future. Although I leave disappointed with world leaders who refuse to do what is right, I remain motivated by my colleagues working towards the same future I envision.