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COP28 forced into overtime as fossil fuel phase-out divides countries

a climate activist distributes a flyer against fossil fuels to a delegate at dubai's expo city during the united nations climate change conference cop28 in dubai
A climate activist distributes a flyer against fossil fuels to a delegate at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai

The COP28 climate talks went into overtime on Tuesday and countries engaged in shuttle-diplomacy to seek a new draft agreement and try to close a rift over ending the world’s use of fossil fuels.

Many nations criticised a draft text for a deal released on Monday for failing to call for a “phase-out” of oil, gas and coal. The United Arab Emirates’ COP28 Director General Majid Al Suwaidi said the aim of the text was to “spark conversations”.

“By releasing our first draft of the text, we got parties to come to us quickly with those red lines,” he told reporters.

Negotiators from the nearly 200 countries at the Dubai summit are attempting to agree a global plan of action to limit climate change fast enough to avert more disastrous flooding, fatal heat and irreversible changes to the world’s ecosystems.

Al Suwaidi said the COP28 presidency aimed for a “historic” result that included mentioning fossil fuels – but that it was up to countries to agree.

Deals at U.N. climate summits must be passed by consensus. Then individual countries are responsible for delivering the deal, through national policies and investments.

Germany’s Climate Envoy Jennifer Morgan said the talks had entered a “critical, critical phase”.

“There is a lot of shuttle diplomacy going on,” she said on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to fast-paced meetings between countries to hunt for compromise.

The draft released on Monday triggered negotiations that ran overnight into early Tuesday. The text had suggested eight options countries “could” take to cut emissions.

One was “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”.

That would be the first time in history that a U.N. climate summit has mentioned reducing use of all “fossil fuels”.

But the move fell short of the “phase-out” of coal, oil and natural gas or the emphasis on cutting their use this decade, which scientists say must happen to avoid climate change escalating.

 

‘WORRIED’

Negotiators were waiting for the new text on Tuesday, when the COP presidency wanted the summit to end. COP summits rarely finish on schedule.

“I’m worried … because it’s very obvious that we need more ambition,” Denmark’s Global Climate Minister Dan Jorgensen told Reuters. “I haven’t given up yet of course, we still think this is possible.”

The draft was also criticised as too weak by participants such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Norway, the European Union and the United States, among the 100-strong group demanding a firm commitment to wean the world off coal, oil and gas.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are the main cause of climate change. Despite the rapid growth of renewable energy, they still produce about 80% of the world’s energy.

Some African nations said any deal must require wealthy countries, who have long produced and used fossil fuels, to quit first.

“The transition should be premised on differentiated pathways to net zero and fossil fuel phase down,” said Collins Nzovu, Minister of Green Economy for Zambia, which chairs the African Group of countries in U.N. climate talks.

“We should also recognise the full right of Africa to exploit its natural resources sustainably,” he added.

It was unclear if China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, supported Monday’s draft. Its veteran climate change envoy, Xie Zhenhua, said progress was being made in the talks, but it was “hard to say” whether agreement could be reached by the end of Tuesday.

Brazil wants a stronger text on ditching fossil fuels, but one that makes clear that rich and poor nations should do so on different timeframes, Environment Minister Marina Silva said.

Representatives of small island nations said they would not approve a deal that was a “death warrant” for vulnerable countries hit hardest by rising sea levels.

 

SAUDI PRESSURE

Sources familiar with the discussions said the UAE’s COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber had faced pressure from Saudi Arabia, de facto leader of the OPEC oil producers’ group to which UAE belongs, to drop any mention of fossil fuels – which he did not do.

Saudi Arabia’s government did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

In a Dec. 6 letter seen by Reuters, OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais urged members to reject any COP28 deal that targeted fossil fuels.

Negotiators and observers in the COP28 talks told Reuters that while Saudi Arabia has been the strongest opponent, other OPEC and OPEC+ members, including Iran, Iraq and Russia, have also resisted a fossil fuel phase-out deal.

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