The attention on Day 6 of the UN COP28 climate summit in Dubai was Energy. It was the day when the key question about the future of fossil fuels came to the fore: to phase out or phase down fossil fuels, or…may be not? Demonstrating how difficult this will be, the 24-page draft Global Stocktake agreement, released on Day 6, included all three options. This is ‘The Question’ at COP28 and it will go down to the wire. We will know the answer only on the very last day of the summit.
The draft also includes clear reference to boosting the role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and “low-carbon” hydrogen production this decade.
Most saw the draft agreement as a very comprehensive document, providing a good basis for going forward. At the end of the day, though, whatever is adopted has to be agreed on by consensus.
For the first time, the summit was attended by the oil and gas industry in large numbers. Activists estimated that something like 2,400 delegates from the fossil fuel sector are taking part, leading to emotive headlines like “COP28 Talks Flooded by Fossil Lobbyists,” even though the number represents only just over 2 per cent of the total.
Leaving controversy aside, the day was packed with high-profile events. These included accelerating the elimination of methane emissions and decarbonisation of oil and gas. In a landmark development, over 50 oil and gas companies pledged “near-zero” upstream methane emissions and zero routine flaring by 2030. They also committed to cut emissions from their operations to net-zero by 2050.
Adding urgency to the need to cut emissions, the ‘Global Carbon Project’ released a report estimating that global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels will rise by 1.1 per cent this year, in comparison to 2022.
The ‘Industrial Transition Accelerator’ (ITA) roundtable was attended by senior representatives from high-emitting industries including shipping, oil and gas and cement. It is a cross-sectoral initiative that provides a platform to drive decarbonisation of energy systems.
For the first time, 60 countries signed-up to the ‘Global Cooling Pledge’, pledging to improve energy efficiency and cut emissions while increasing access to sustainable cooling. This is especially important as energy demand for cooling could triple by 2050.
There was also a declaration of intent to prioritise commercialisation of green hydrogen projects and pursue mutual recognition of hydrogen certification schemes.
The EU hosted the ‘EU Energy Days’ event, with focus on implementing the clean energy transition, building on the pledge made by 121 countries – including Cyprus – to treble renewables and double energy efficiency by 2030. The event was opened by Kadri Simson, European commissioner for energy, who said “This is a strong signal that, collectively, we can move towards the clean energy future our planet so desperately needs.”
Led by UAE, France and the US, 22 countries agreed to treble nuclear energy by 2050. In addition, the US unveiled a ‘global nuclear fusion strategy’. This is the first international strategy to commercialise nuclear fusion power. Presenting it, John Kerry said nuclear fusion is now a climate “solution, not a science experiment”.
Most attention on Day 6 was on the future of fossil fuels. Phasing out or, as a minimum, phasing down fossil fuels was the key demand of many countries at COP28 including the US and EU. However, when asked, the energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, gave a strong response, confirming that Saudi Arabia will “absolutely not” agree to phasing down of fossil fuels. And neither would China, India and the oil and gas producing countries.
This should not detract from the momentous commitments made so far at COP28 on initiatives to cut emissions, increase uptake of low-carbon energy, on building climate-resilient health systems, climate finance and funding and measures to accelerate energy transition. These could have far-reaching impacts on climate change. The emphasis must now be on delivery, on turning these commitments to real actions. Success will depend on transparency and accountability.
The draft Global Stocktake agreement provides the basis to arrive to an ambitious outcome at COP28.
Dr Charles Ellinas is a senior fellow at the Global Energy Centre of the Atlantic Council