| 25 February 2024, Sunday |

Big divisions loom over fossil fuels as COP28 talks head into final phase

The president of the COP28 climate summit on Sunday urged negotiators to work harder to find consensus as the conference entered the final stage of talks focused on a proposed first-of-its-kind deal to phase out the world’s use of oil, gas and coal.

The talks in Dubai have highlighted deep international divisions over the future role of fossil fuels that are complicating efforts by nearly 200 countries to hash out an agreement before the summit’s scheduled end on Dec. 12.

“Now, the time has come for all parties to constructively engage,” COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber told the conference. “Failure is not an option.”

Al Jaber said he was asking all countries to suggest wording for a consensus on fossil fuels.

A coalition of more than 80 countries including the United States, the European Union and small island nations are pushing for an agreement at COP28 that includes language to “phase out” fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming.

They are coming up against tough opposition led by the oil producer group OPEC and its allies.

OPEC issued a letter to its members and backers on Dec. 6 asking them to oppose any language targeting fossil fuels in a COP28 deal, and observers in the negotiations told Reuters some of those delegations appeared to be heeding the call.

“I think there are still quite entrenched positions,” said Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertyński, Poland’s Deputy Minister for Climate, who is heading the country’s COP28 delegation.

“We are nearing the end, in terms of the time allocated for negotiations. But we are not quite there on the final outcome.”

OPEC’s biggest producer and de facto leader Saudi Arabia, along with Russia and others, have argued that the focus of the COP28 should be on reducing emissions, not on targeting the fuel sources that cause them.

China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, said on Saturday that a COP28 deal can only be considered a success if it includes an agreement on fossil fuels – though he did not say whether Beijing would back a “phase out” deal.

“The positions on the issue are currently very antagonistic, and China is trying to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties and can solve the problems,” he said, describing COP28 as the hardest climate summit of his career.

A draft text published on Sunday proposed that next year’s COP29 climate summit be hosted by Azerbaijan between Nov. 11 and Nov. 22. The text will need to be adopted by the summit before it becomes official.


The latest version of the core 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.

Abating fossil fuels typically means reducing their climate impact by either capturing and storing their carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture is expensive and has yet to be proven at scale.

Three sources told Reuters that the COP28 presidency did not intend to release another draft until Monday, something that would leave negotiators just one full day to resolve differences ahead of the conference’s scheduled end on Tuesday before noon.

“It’s getting close to the end point, so that new text really has to find areas of convergence that’s much beyond where we are right now,” said Rachel Cleetus, a policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The conference has yielded a slew of other commitments from countries to hit targets like tripling renewable energy and nuclear power deployments, slash coal use, and curb emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Sunday that these pledges – if honoured – would lower global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 4 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030.

While the figure is substantial, it represents only about a third of the emissions gap that needs to be closed in the next six years to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the IEA said.

“An ‘orderly & just decline of global fossil fuel use’ is needed to keep 1.5C in reach,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at the Doha Forum, urged leaders at the COP28 climate conference to agree on deep cuts to emissions to stop global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Guterres said that despite pledges, emissions are at a record high and fossil fuels are the major cause.

“I urge leaders at COP28 in Dubai to agree on deep cuts to emissions, in line with the 1.5-degree limit,” he said.

  • Reuters