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A Fossil Fuel ‘Phase-Out’ Is Officially Out

COP28 negotiators replaced the controversial phrase with language that calls for reducing both consumption and production of fossil energy.

Earth in a gas drip.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

One of the most exciting and contentious questions looming over the COP28 climate summit in Dubai this year has been whether countries will agree to an historic phase out of fossil fuels to stave off the worst effects of climate change. With one day left on the official conference agenda, we may have our answer: No.

A new draft of the global stocktake text dropped Monday and it contains no mention of a fossil fuel phase out or phase down. Instead, the relevant section of the text now calls for “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net zero by, before, or around 2050 in keeping with the science.”

That the phase-out language didn’t survive a tense weekend of negotiations isn’t a huge surprise. Any deal to emerge from the annual United Nations climate summit must be unanimously supported by all 198 participating nations. Saudi Arabia staunchly opposed a phase-out, while a handful of powerful oil-producing countries (including the U.S.) wanted to see specific caveats and provisions.

Strong language on moving past oil and gas was always a long shot, but some activists and governments are still disappointed. Fossil fuels are a primary source of planet-warming pollution, which must fall by at least 45% “to avoid global catastrophe,” according to the UN. New analysis from the International Energy Agency concluded that the voluntary emissions pledges to come out of COP28 so far are nowhere near dramatic enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“This draft takes a giant step backwards,” said Teresa Anderson, Global Climate Lead at ActionAid. “It’s staggeringly empty of any new commitments.” CarbonBrief’s Simon Evans laments that “hardly any of the verbs in the latest draft global stocktake text actually ask for action.” Kaisa Kosonen, head of the Greenpeace COP28 delegation, calls it “a dog’s dinner.”

The new text isn’t entirely toothless, though. “By requiring countries to reduce their fossil fuel production, it effectively achieves the same ends as a phase down, without using the contentious language that some countries would not allow,” arguedThe Guardian’s Fiona Harvey. Past language focusing on fossil fuel emissions instead of production was considered a sneaky workaround for countries that want to keep emitting while relying on carbon capture and storage. So focusing specifically on production could be interpreted as an attempt at stronger accountability.

“It appears to be a compromise between Saudi Arabia who didn’t want any mention of fossils and the progressive countries who called for an outright fossil fuel phase out,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa. “It’s in the middle and uses creative language to describe the direction of travel.”

“It’s not sufficient,” concededBusinessGreen’s James Murray. “But the signal to investors and businesses is pretty clear. Is it enough to secure backing from COP’s opposing factions?”

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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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Sparks

This Chicken Named Potato Will Teach Your Kids About Climate Change

A chicken from the future, to be clear.

Future Chicken.
Heatmap Illustration/CBC, Getty Images

If I told you there was a chicken named Potato who was going to teach our kids about climate change, would you think I was kidding? Either way, I’m here to inform you that Future Chicken, an “ECOtainment platform” co-created by Catherine Winder and Annabel Slaight, launched last year, including original content like a TV show that airs on CBC and YouTube, games, and a podcast, all aimed at warding off climate doom and instead highlighting climate solutions.

Winder and Slaight have, to put it mildly, impressive resumes, with Slaight having been an executive producer of The Big Comfy Couch and Winder a force behind multiple Angry Birds movies. The show’s premise is fun, and was actually thought up by kids. The main character is a chicken (named Potato) from the year 2050, a time when climate change has seemingly been solved. She travels back and forth between the future and the present, sometimes talking about the solutions of her time.

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New Treasury data just dropped.

An EV charger.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I was thinking to myself, how are we going to know how many people are actually taking advantage of the tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act?

When I put the question out on Twitter — I mean, X — I heard from Sam Hughes, a researcher inside the Treasury who pointed me to a section of the department’s website that contains data on tax credits by year. The problem is, it hasn’t been updated since 2020. But then today, as if to answer my prayers, I received a taste of the data I was looking for in my inbox.

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Get a Grip, New York. It’s Just Snow.

We have forgotten how to winter.

New York City during a snowstorm.
Heatmap Illustration/Library of Congress

It is a time-honored tradition for Americans who live north of the 39th parallel to mock cities like Washington, D.C., and Atlanta when they shut down over a little bit of snow. It is with great regret, then, that I write now to tell you that New York City has fallen. No longer will it be acceptable for us to roll our eyes at Southerners who abandon their cars over a mere inch of snow; no, we in fact deserve to be razzed by New Englanders and Minnesotans, our former partners in razzing. New Yorkers have become, in effect, weak. We’ve forgotten how to winter.

Maybe it’s because it has been 745 days since our last significant snowfall, or maybe it’s because, at some point, we started to lean into our designation as a “subtropical” climate. But no — I won’t make excuses, either. Outside my window in western Queens, the sidewalks are slushy but navigable, the flakes are light, and the city has lost its mind.

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