LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Catholic leaders say the final agreement at the COP28 conference on climate issues is progress, but it doesn’t move fast enough to eliminate fossil fuels.

Nearly 200 countries agreed Wednesday to move away from planet-warming fossil fuels — the first time they’ve made that crucial pledge in decades of U.N. climate talks though many warned the deal still had significant shortcomings.

The agreement was approved without the floor fight many feared — and is stronger than a draft floated earlier in the week that angered several nations. But it didn’t call for an outright phasing out of oil, gas and coal — and it gives nations significant wiggle room in their “transition” away from those fuels.

“COP28 has confirmed what we need to do with an explicit reference to a world without fossil fuels and support to the most vulnerable communities through the agreement of a loss and damage fund,” said Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity of England and Wales bishops’ conference.

“But with little new funding the ‘how’ this happens in a fair and rapid way to support the needs of low-income countries whose populations are suffering from the climate crisis is far from clear. It risks pushing those countries further into a debt crisis with less funding to support the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” he said.

“Pope Francis called for urgent action at COP28. He may be disappointed that leaders have not moved ‘beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial change’, but we now have the basis to create greater ambition at our national levels. That is the way we will keep to a 1.5-degree pathway,” Thorns said.

“It’s encouraging to see increasing government support to link the climate and food agendas, which should be reflected in future national plans and an urgent plan to transform our food system to provide greater support smallholder farmers,” he added.

Samoa’s lead delegate Anne Rasmussen, on behalf of small island nations, said “the course correction that is needed has not been secured,” with the deal representing business-as-usual instead of exponential emissions-cutting efforts. She said the deal could “potentially take us backward rather than forward.”

The deal says that the transition would be done in a way that gets the world to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and carbon pollution to peak by the year 2025 but gives wiggle room to individual nations like China to peak later.

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

Scottish Catholic observers said that while the COP28 meeting in Dubai closed to rounds of applause and standing ovations for the agreement to transition away from fossil fuels, the celebrations will be short-lived if decisions are not followed up with real action.

“COP28 makes clear that the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels, but we needed more in the text,” said Ben Wilson, the head of advocacy for SCIAF, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund.

“Once again, a few countries fought tooth and nail to protect their short-term national interests rather than for the common good and for the next generation. But the climate crisis won’t be won or lost at any one moment or any one COP,” he said.

“Progress has been made on ‘what’ needs to happen, but next we must turn attention to ‘how’ and ‘when.’ Parties disappointed in this outcome should remember that they don’t need a COP decision to urgently ramp up domestic ambition on phasing out fossil fuels,” Wilson added.

The Scottish Catholic representative also said that the Loss and Damage fund agreement on the first day – where developed countries agreed to help vulnerable economies recover from the effects of climate change – “remains a very delicate victory indeed.”

So far, more than $700 million has been raised for the fund.

“Attention must now turn to the board of the new Loss and Damage Fund and to future meetings of the COP which must set out a clear pathway to make polluters pay. It is only with justice that the full scale of climate action can be taken,” Wilson said.

Regarding Pope Francis’s involvement at COP28, the SCIAF representative also said everyone was “devastated” to hear that Pope Francis was too sick to make it to Dubai, “but he was very much there in spirit.”

“His address at the beginning of the conference, delivered by Cardinal Parolin, rang out in discussion halls throughout the two weeks. The pope called on day one for the ‘elimination of fossil fuels.’ By the end, we have agreement to transition away from them. This is certainly progress, but simply not fast enough,” Wilson said.

United Nations Climate Secretary Simon Stiell told delegates their efforts were “needed to signal a hard stop to humanity’s core climate problem: fossil fuels and that planet-burning pollution. Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end.”

Stiell cautioned people that what they adopted was a “climate action lifeline, not a finish line.”

This article includes material from the Associated Press.