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COP28: is the close of play for fossil fuels finally in sight?

Topics: Oil and Gas

Offshore oil and gas development out at sea.

What the world needed from COP28 was a clear agreement to stop drilling for fossil fuels and start restoring the life support system on which we all depend: nature. What the world got – as the hottest year on record baked the planet – was a deal more littered with holes than Swiss cheese.  

But there is hope in the dark. 

A deal has been nailed down, and for the first time in COP’s 30-year history, it directly references fossil fuels, calling on countries to “transition away” from climate-wrecking oil, gas and coal. This is undoubtedly a leap of progress, considering the pushback by oil-rich nations and the underhand tactics of Big Oil working to omit any mention at all of the dirty ‘f-word’.   

We may have moved the needle by including reference to fossil fuels in the final COP deal, but now we must turn the tide. Every country around the world must play its part, and rich nations that have profited from emissions-intense development must do the lion’s share. In the UK, our first, immediate step must be to urgently stop to all new oil and gas developments in our seas,” said Hugo Tagholm, Executive Director of Oceana UK. 

Over £148 million was pledged by global leaders to restore parts of our ocean, mangroves and forests on COP’s Nature Day. It’s not enough, but it’s still great news, considering how vital nature restoration is in keeping the goal of 1.5°C alive. Reversing nature-loss can provide over 30% of the mitigation action needed to keep 1.5°C within reach by 2030, the UN estimates. 

Our ocean plays a critical role in this. Kelp forests, coral reefs, fish and plankton: all sea life acts as a fantastic ‘blue carbon’ store, allowing our seas to absorb a staggering one third of the CO2 we pump out. The big blue has also taken in over a nuclear bomb’s worth of heat every second for the past 150 years.  

In this way, our ocean serves as our protector in the face of the climate crisis, but it is under immense pressure. Over a third of UK fish populations are overfished, 92% of our seagrass has been lost, and pollution and industrial exploitation is threatening the integrity of our marine protected areas.  

Bottom trawling on UK seafloors degrades seabed sediments and destroys habitats like ancient coral reefs, releasing the carbon stored within them. Dragging the heavily weighted trawling nets across the seabed also means outsize emissions from diesel-guzzling vessels. On top of all this, British marine ‘protected’ areas are up for sale for Big Oil developments – climate wrecking in themselves as well as destroying and polluting our marine life.  

So where are our leaders in all this? At COP28 the UK Government announced funding to help restore marine biodiversity and blue carbon habitats. Under further scrutiny, however, it is clear this is not new money at all. It is merely a designation of part of the existing £500 million Blue Planet Fund, which the government has announced at every COP for the last three years running.  

With the UK’s 2030 target to cut emissions by two thirds considerably off course, and our PM’s pledge to “max out” North Sea oil and gas, this failure to invest new money in UK waters highlights yet again our government’s woefully mistaken priorities.  

The sun has gone down on COP28, and it was far from everything we wanted. But weak international agreements don’t stop us taking action. And we have key facts on our side. The solutions are simple, and they are here, now: Stop burning fossil fuels, start protecting our seas and nature as whole. With political will, the UK can and should turn around its shabby performance and make strides in the right direction. Fail to act now, and history will judge us harshly. 

Join our Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling.