Dubai, United Arab Emirates —  United Nations climate negotiators directed the world on Wednesday to transition away from planet-warming fossil fuels in a move the talks’ chief called “historic,” despite critics’ worries about loopholes.

Within minutes of opening Wednesday’ session, COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber gaveled approval of the central document, which says how far the world is off-track its climate-fighting goals and how it is going to get back – without asking for comments. Delegates stood and hugged each other.

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, center, applauds along with other officials before a plenary session during the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on Dec. 13, 2023. Nations adopted the first ever U.N. climate deal that calls for the world to transition away from fossil fuels.

GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP via Getty Images

“It is a plan that is led by the science,” al-Jaber said. “It is an enhanced, balanced but make no mistake, a historic package to accelerate climate action. It is the UAE consensus.”

“We have language on fossil fuel In our final agreement for the first time ever,” SAID al-Jaber, CEO of the UAE’s oil company.

The new deal had been floated early Wednesday after a global rallying cry and was stronger than one proposed days earlier, but still had loopholes that upset critics.

It was seen as a significant step toward shifting how the world is powered but one filled with questions about how soon and who will pay for the transition.  

The deal doesn’t go so far as to seek a “phase-out” of fossil fuels, which more than 100 nations had pleaded for. Instead, it calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade.”

That transition would be in a way that gets the world to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and follows the dictates of climate science. It projects a world peaking its ever-growing carbon pollution by the year 2025 to reach its agreed-upon threshold, but gives wiggle room to individual nations like China to peak later.

“The world is burning, we need to act now,” said Ireland Environment Minister Eamon Ryan.

Agence France-Presse reports that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry praised the accord, saying, “Everybody here should be pleased that in a world of Ukraine and the Middle East war and all the other challenges of a planet that is floundering, there is “cause for optimism, cause for gratitude and cause for some significant congratulations to everybody here.”

And the Reuters news agency notes that Kerry said the agreement “sends very strong messages to the world” and that both the U.S. and China plan to update their long-term climate strategies to conform with its terms.

Intense sessions with all sorts of delegates went well into the small hours of Wednesday morning after the conference presidency’s initial document angered many countries by avoiding decisive calls for action on curbing global warming. Then, the United Arab Emirates-led presidency presented delegates from nearly 200 nations with a new central document – called the global stocktake – just after sunrise.

It was the third version presented in about two weeks and the word “oil” does not appear anywhere in the 21-page document, though “fossil fuels” appears twice.

The Alliance of Small Island States said in a statement that the text “is incremental and not transformational. We see a litany of loopholes in this text that are a major concern to us.”

“We needed a global signal to address fossil fuels. This is the first time in 28 years that countries are forced to deal with fossil fuels,” Center for Biological Diversity energy justice director Jean Su told The Associated Press. “So that is a general win. But the actual details in this are severely flawed.”

“The problem with the text is that it still includes cavernous loopholes that allow the United States and other fossil fuel producing countries to keep going on their expansion of fossil fuels,” Su said. “There’s a pretty deadly, fatal flaw in the text, which allows for transitional fuels to continue” — a code word for natural gas that also emits carbon pollution. 

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