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Estonian experts critical of COP28 outcome

VGK mine.
VGK mine. Source: Dmitri Fedotkin / ERR

This week, the COP28 climate summit concluded in Dubai. The participating countries reached an agreement to gradually move away from the use of fossil fuels. Estonian experts are critical of the agreement, as it is not accompanied by a concrete action plan.

Estonian experts note that this year's agreement at COP28 is a victory in one aspect, as it is the first time in 30 years that fossil fuels have been mentioned in the final text of a climate conference. However, it is also seen as a disappointment. According to Marko Allikson, board member of Baltic Energy Partners OÜ, the agreement was a compromise for everyone. "The final document had something pleasant for both oil producers and renewable energy producers, meaning it was a big compromise that doesn't really affect life," he said.

This is also indicated by the fact that nothing significant happened in the energy markets after the final document. "Looking at the European energy markets, there was no reaction in terms of prices. Probably because the wording was general enough. The importance of the entire meeting may lie in the fact that these topics are being discussed, but no breakthroughs occurred," stated Allikson. He is unsure whether such agreements will lead to a faster move away from fossil fuels or if it's just how life goes because resources being mined will eventually run out.

Annela Anger-Kraavi, head of the Climate Policy Research Group at the University of Cambridge and a visiting professor at the University of Tartu, mentioned that the COP28 president, a sultan and oil company executive al-Jaber, gave an interview to The Guardian this week. "He said their plan is to continue producing fossil fuels with as little carbon emission as possible and to offer everyone as much oil as they want and at a reasonable price. This entire narrative contradicts the great joy of gradually moving away from fossil fuels in energy production," Anger-Kraavi said.

The COP28 final document also rephrased the part concerning a just transition. European countries interpret a just transition as supporting those who would otherwise suffer from economic restructuring, for example, those living below the poverty line and facing rising electricity prices due to renewable energy. However, a clause in the final document allows developing countries to continue using fossil fuels if it benefits the country's economic development.

Anger-Kraavi discussed how many countries at the meeting claimed that economic development should come first, followed by combating climate change. "This weakens the implementation of the Paris Agreement if some countries claim they want to use fossil fuels first to become as wealthy as European countries. There's nothing wrong with becoming wealthy and improving living standards, but perhaps not by using fossil fuels and only then thinking about reducing them," she said.

Estonia considers climate policy at the European Union level, as economic and energy systems are strongly interconnected. Therefore, EU countries should collectively decide how to gradually reduce fossil fuel use.

Ivo Krustok, a senior expert at the Stockholm Environment Institute's Tallinn Center, said that looking at how climate policy has evolved in the European Union over the last five years, it is likely that clearer agreements need to be made on how countries will phase out the use of fossil fuels.

"This must be reflected in legislation because, in the end, such an ambiguous future is beneficial to no one. When we talk about a just transition and Ida-Viru County, the people working there today need certainty and knowledge of what the future will be like, when the phase-out will occur, and how possible alternatives will be ensured so that the region can continue to thrive," stated Krustok.

In addition to reducing fossil fuels, countries in the agreement call for tripling renewable energy production capacities by 2030 and accelerating the development of nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture technologies. According to Allikson, this is certainly a realistic plan, and the European Union is already on the same path.

"Particularly positive is the mention of nuclear energy, as in recent years, nuclear energy has been somewhat neglected, and certainly Fukushima has played a role in this. However, recently nuclear energy has again become more topical, and many countries have started to revive it," he said.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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