John Kerry on the COP28 Agreement and What Comes Next

The deal 198 nations struck this week to transition away from fossil fuels is “the most important decision since the Paris agreement,” in 2015, John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate change, said Friday.

The global agreement made in Dubai at the annual U.N. climate summit was the first time in the nearly three decades that diplomats have been grappling with climate change that they were willing to name its fundamental culprit: the burning of coal, oil and gas.

After two weeks of hard-fought negotiations in which nations deeply vulnerable to climate disasters were urging a complete “phaseout” of fossil fuels, and major oil exporters led by Saudi Arabia refused to even consider such language, governments landed on a compromise.

The final deal calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels” this decade in a “just, orderly and equitable manner,” while tripling renewable energy like wind and solar power.

“I think ‘transitioning away’ offered certain parties a way to feel like they were being somewhat listened to and that their concerns were being addressed, because there was a drop-dead refusal from several quarters not to accept a phaseout,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview on Friday.

Many island nations criticized the final deal, saying it doesn’t go far enough. But Mr. Kerry said the willingness of countries — even those that are major exporters of oil — to acknowledge that the era of fossil fuels must eventually come to an end underscored the “urgency” of the deal.