The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, went into overtime on Tuesday night with an agreement that fell short of the “fossil fuel phaseout” called for by the U.S., EU, and island nations. Although the draft agreement called for reducing all fossil fuel use—the first time in UN history—that didn’t go far enough for U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, who said the deal “doesn’t meet the test” and pushed for stronger language into Wednesday.

It’s too bad that the summit seems designed to fuel panic rather than progress. Instead of cherry-picking favored technologies and excluding others from the “energy system of the future” in the name of a climate emergency, global leaders ought to rely on the free market, price signals, and consumer preferences to select reliable, cost-effective energy that works for local communities.

Here are a few more highlights of COP28: 

  • On the first day, the “wealthy countries most responsible for the climate emergency” established a “loss and damage fund” to compensate developing countries for their “economic and non-economic” losses due to climate change.
  • In a separate agreement, 50 oil and gas companies, representing over 40% of global oil production, joined the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter, which would require signatories “to align around net zero by or before 2050,” and invest “in the energy system of the future including renewables, low-carbon fuels and negative emissions technologies.” The signatories also agreed to “reduc[e] energy poverty” in developing nations—though that might be easier through energy-dense, cost-effective fossil fuels rather than touted intermittent wind and solar alternatives.
  • The conference also unveiled a “global food systems” agreement, endorsed by the U.S. and 133 other countries, that instructs the wealthiest nations to eat less meat to combat climate change. 

While wrangling continued throughout the night, it is hardly a failing of international diplomacy that countries could have agreed to a “watered-down draft” that—imagine!—offers choices as to how to reduce emissions. Major emissions reductions thus far can be credited mostly to safe and cost-effective nuclear power, which now faces near-insurmountable regulatory hurdles; and the substitution away from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. It is not only reasonable but necessary, to ensure that localities can adapt however they see fit. That is the beauty of pluralism, and the COP28 delegates would do well to adopt some regulatory humility.

Promising advancements, including the emerging field of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, might solve the problem of emissions just as well as a fossil fuel phaseout by removing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Yet ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods, who presented on CCS technology at COP28, has been characterized as a “villain” for attending as a representative of the fossil fuel industry and recognizing that CCS will be a necessary part of the emissions-reduction strategy. 

The most frustrating development of COP28, however, is the blatant hypocrisy on display. Let’s put it this way: If the world leaders negotiating the fate of countries’ energy supplies were truly convinced that this is “a war for survival,” there would probably have been fewer private jets flying into Dubai for the conference. As the president of the conference, Sultan al-Jaber said in remarks on the final agreement, “We are what we do, not what we say.”