Observers on the ground at COP28 in Dubai are alleging that the richest oil and gas exporting nations, being led by the U.S., are ostensibly on board with including phaseout language in the final text of the summit.
According to them, the text they are proposing could hinder climate goals by obscuring the meaning of “phaseout” and enshrining seeming distractions like carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, and nuclear in the phaseout text.
COP28 is in the final days of negotiations that will set the stage for whether the world is able to keep crucial climate goals in reach. There is talk about “fossil fuel phaseout” appearing in the final text, which observers say marks significant momentum for the climate movement.
News in the past week revealed that OPEC is not very comfortable about the possible inclusion of “fossil fuel phaseout” in the text.
The oil producer group in a letter urged its members and allies to reject any mention of fossil fuels in the final summit deal, warning that “undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point”.
In fact, countries clashed on Saturday, December 9, 2023, over a possible agreement to phase-out fossil fuels at the summit, jeopardising attempts to deliver a first-ever commitment to eventually end the use of oil and gas in 30 years of global warming talks.
Saudi Arabia and Russia were among several countries insisting that the conference in Dubai focus only on reducing climate pollution – and not on targeting the fossil fuels causing it, according to observers in the negotiations.
On the other side, at least 80 countries including the United States, the European Union and many poor, climate-vulnerable nations are said to be demanding that a COP28 deal call clearly for an eventual end to fossil fuel use.
COP28 President, Sultan al-Jaber, told nations late on Saturday to speed up their work to find a final deal, saying there were “still more areas of divergence than agreement”.
“The window is closing to close the gaps,” he told the summit.
Saudi Arabia is the top producer in OPEC and the de facto leader of the organisation and Russia is a member of the so-called OPEC+ group.
By insisting on focusing on emissions rather than fossil fuels, the two countries appeared to be leaning on the promise of expensive carbon capture technology, which the U.N. climate science panel says cannot take the place of reducing fossil fuel use worldwide.
Other countries including India and China have not explicitly endorsed a fossil fuel phase-out at COP28 but have backed a popular call for boosting renewable energy.
With the summit’s scheduled to end on Tuesday, government ministers from the nearly 200 countries at the Dubai summit have joined in trying to resolve the fossil fuel impasse.
Climate-vulnerable countries said a rejection of a fossil fuel mention at COP28 would threaten the entire world.
“Nothing puts the prosperity and future of all people on earth, including all of the citizens of OPEC countries, at greater risk than fossil fuels,” said Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege in a statement.
The Marshall Islands, which faces inundation from climate-driven sea level rise, currently chairs the High Ambition Coalition group of nations pushing for stronger emissions-cutting targets and policies.
“To meet the global goal of holding climate warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures, the coalition “is pushing for a phase out of fossil fuels, which are at the root of this crisis,” she said. “1.5 is not negotiable, and that means an end to fossil fuels.”
The latest version of the negotiating text, released on Friday, shows countries were still considering a range of options – from agreeing to a “phase out of fossil fuels in line with best available science”, to phasing out “unabated fossil fuels”, to including no mention at all.
JL Andrepont, 350.org Senior Policy Analyst, said: “This is a major inflection point for our entire planet: world leaders have the chance to finally commit to the fossil fuel phaseout we need to prevent the worst of the climate catastrophe and stand on the side of people and planet. And yet, as the expression goes, the U.S. is trying to have their cake and eat it, too. The U.S. wants to appear to support a fossil fuel phaseout, but they’re manipulating that language so that they can continue to burn fossil fuels, wreak havoc on the rest of the planet, and rely on dangerous distractions like carbon capture instead of having to make meaningful change.
“The White House’s coverage this week has lauded the Biden administration’s climate efforts. However, we’ve been watching, too, and we call on Biden and his Climate Team to be the leaders they are claiming to be: stop playing diplomatic games with the world’s future and support a full, rapid fossil fuel phaseout. The U.S., the world’s largest oil and gas extractor and exporter, has a responsibility to make up for current and historical emissions. Let’s get on the right side of history.”