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COP28 enters final stretch as UAE pushes fossil fuel deal

Bloomberg • 4 min read
COP28 enters final stretch as UAE pushes fossil fuel deal
Sultan Al-Jaber, COP28 President and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology in the United Arab Emirates. Photo: Bloomberg
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The COP28 climate summit in Dubai entered its final two days as Sultan Al-Jaber, the Emirati oil executive who is presiding over this year’s talks, sought to produce a text that would include a commitment to reduce the world’s consumption of oil and gas for the first time. 

Early on Dec 11, negotiators were awaiting a draft of the agreement that would try to bridge the gap between countries that want a complete phase out of fossil fuels and those opposing it, led by Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries. Outstanding issues include a plan to scale up climate finance for the developing world and a framework for helping poorer nations adapt to a warmer planet.

The fossil fuel issue has dominated the fortnight of talks hosted in the United Arab Emirates, after countries failed to reach an agreement at last year’s COP27 talks in Egypt. Al-Jaber told reporters on Dec 10 that the “time has come for us to shift gears” to deliver a timely and ambitious outcome for the summit, due to end Dec 12. 

But the conference appeared to be falling further behind, with a new text that negotiators can work on set to appear four hours later than planned. 

“The areas where options need to be negotiated have narrowed significantly,” Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, the UN agency that oversees COPs, said in a Dec 11 morning press conference. “We’re now here to discuss two issues: how high is our ambition on mitigation, and two, are we willing to back this transition with the proper means of support to deliver it.”

The big question is whether oil-exporting countries can find common ground with the rest of the world to deliver an agreement on fossil fuels.

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Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said last week that the kingdom will not agree to a deal that calls for the phase-down of fossil fuels. Oman’s Energy Minister Salim Al-Aufi echoed those comments on Dec 11. OPEC’s top official urged member countries in a letter last week to reject any agreements that target fossil fuels. Any deal at COP must be agreed unanimously.  

“We need to find consensus and common ground on fossil fuels, including coal,” Al-Jaber said on Sunday. “We need to also come to terms with the sources of finance and support” for adaptation and a just transition.

Despite pushing for stronger fossil fuel language, Al-Jaber declined to name specific oil-producing nations that were holding up climate action. Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels will rise 1.1% this year over 2022, to 36.8 billion metric tonnes, according to the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists.

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The argument over the future of fossil fuels is happening almost a decade after nearly 200 countries signed the Paris deal to limit global temperatures to well below 2°C, ideally to 1.5°C, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. However, the divisions over fossil fuels are spilling out into other tracks.

Arab nations and a group of developing countries had rejected an initial text on the global goal on adaptation earlier in the week, though that stalemate ended on Dec 10, as groups expressed their will to negotiate.

“We think we’ve got considerable ways to go to get a decent outcome that will be lasting,” US negotiator Trigg Talley said during talks on Dec 10 on plans for adapting to more turbulent weather. “What we are doing is creating a framework for implementation over a long period of time that should be robust, clear and consistent.” 

Al-Jaber has said repeatedly this is the first COP presidency ever to actively call on parties to come forward with language on a phase-out on fossil fuels in the agreed text. At last year’s talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, many oil-producing nations refused to even engage in a debate.

Still, climate activists have raised concerns about the UAE hosting the talks from the start, as the country is one of the world’s largest oil exporters. Al-Jaber’s presidency has also been viewed with suspicion due to his other role as head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.

At least 2,456 representatives of the fossil fuel industry have been granted access to COP28, according to an analysis by the “Kick Big Polluters Out” pressure group.

Follow The Edge Singapore’s coverage of COP28 here.

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