COP28 draft agreement drops phaseout of fossil fuels

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A draft agreement from the UN’s COP28 climate summit has dropped references to the phaseout of fossil fuels after opposition from oil and gas-producing countries led by Saudi Arabia.

The document — which will have to be agreed by almost 200 countries at the summit in Dubai — sets out an optional range of actions that countries “could” take to cut emissions to net zero by 2050.

This includes reducing “consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net zero [carbon emissions] by, before, or around 2050 in keeping with the science”.

But a large number of countries are hoping for the final text to go further by striking a landmark agreement to phase out fossil fuels, rather than just presenting the choice of reducing their consumption and production.

The draft text, published by the UN climate body, faces fierce opposition from the EU bloc countries and small island states. EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra said it was “clearly insufficient”.

“For the vast majority of our emissions we have no alternative than to drive them down and out asap,” Hoekstra said.

But during the weekend, negotiators and ministers from countries around the world accused Saudi Arabia of piling pressure on Sultan al-Jaber, COP28 president and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, to shift the focus of any agreement away from fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel burning is the biggest contributor to climate change, accounting for about three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions. 

“We have made progress, but we still have a lot to do . . . including on fossil fuel language,” Jaber told the UN session after the release of the draft.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said it was misleading the world that fossil fuels could play an essential future role. It also contradicted EU energy policy and allowed for new coal power plants.

The US state department said the wording on fossil fuels “needs to be substantially strengthened” and claimed the finance section included inaccuracies.

If agreed, the text would nevertheless mark the first plan set out by a COP summit — the world’s most important climate forum — to shift away from all fossil fuels. Previously, only the phasedown of unabated coal was referenced.

“We should not allow anything to get between the fact we have all decided to keep our focus on our north star . . . of keeping 1.5[C] in reach,” Jaber said.

Under the landmark Paris climate accord from 2015, countries agreed to limit temperature rises to well below 2C and ideally 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

However, Samoa’s minister of natural resources Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, speaking on behalf of a group of small island countries vulnerable to climate change, said they were “not being heard” and “weak language on fossil fuels was completely insufficient”. 

“It is our very survival that is at stake. That is why in every room our negotiators have been pushing tirelessly for decisions that align with staying under 1.5[C] degrees,” Schuster said.

John Silk, minister of natural resources and commerce for the Marshall Islands, said the country “did not come here to sign our death warrant”, calling for a fossil fuel phaseout.

“We will not go silently to our watery graves. We will not accept an outcome that will lead to the devastation for our country.”

In the past 24 hours, the talks have become embroiled in a dispute over the financing for the transition to a greener economy, as well as the controversy over the future of fossil fuels.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the draft text was “extremely disappointing, concerning, and nowhere close to the level of ambition people around the world deserve”.

Rachel Cleetus, a policy director of the UCS, said it was “riddled with the evidence of world leaders succumbing to the perverse influence of the fossil fuel industry and petrostates instead of choosing to safeguard a liveable future for people and the planet.”

Alden Meyer, of climate think-tank E3G, said the new text presented only a series of voluntary options to countries on getting rid of fossil fuels.

“It’s like a fast-food menu — maybe you pick a or b, maybe you pick nothing,” said Meyer.

Earlier in the day, António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, said a “central aspect of the success” of COP28 would be for the summit to “reach a consensus on the need to phase out fossil fuels”.

COP28 draft agreement: Action optional

  • Triple renewable energy capacity globally and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030

  • Rapid phasedown of unabated coal and limits on permitting new and unabated coal power generation

  • Accelerated efforts globally towards net zero emissions energy systems, using zero and low carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century

  • Accelerating zero and low emissions technologies, including renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies, including such as carbon capture and utilisation and storage, and low carbon hydrogen production, to enhance efforts in substitution of unabated fossil fuels

  • 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

  • Accelerating and substantially reducing non-CO₂ emissions, including, in particular, methane emissions globally by 2030

  • Accelerating emissions reductions from road transport through a range of pathways, including development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles

  • Phaseout of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible


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