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Home » As COP’s conclusion looms, chance of phase-out fades

As COP’s conclusion looms, chance of phase-out fades

by Madaline Dunn

As COP28 enters its last days, time is running out, and there’s still a huge amount of work to be done – indeed, as with previous years, it’s likely the summit will extend beyond Tuesday.  

We’ve heard words from the COP28 Presidency calling for delegates to “switch gears,” and on the penultimate day of the climate summit, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, flew back to Dubai, with an “urgent appeal” for leaders to recommit to the 1.5-degree warming limit. 

“End the fossil fuel age,” he said.  

However, with a number of countries pushing back on the phase-out, divisions are strong and with the release of the new draft today, hopes of a phase-out have been dashed – it is now missing from the text.

Language on phase-out now missing from draft

So, what does the draft text say? It sets out eight options, including a ramp-up of renewable energy and phasing out of “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” Crucially, it makes no mention of oil and gas, and on coal, outlines a “phasing down” on unabated coal and “limitations” on permitting new and unabated coal power generation.

It does, however, call for a reduction in both the consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a “just, orderly and equitable manner” to achieve net zero by, before, or around 2050 “in keeping with the science.”

But the text is laden with contradictions, incredibly vague and lacking in a call to action. Indeed, some have outlined that as well as being significantly watered down, it uses terms like “noting,” “recalling,” and “invites.” Likewise, the above examples in the draft text are presented as actions that “could include.”

Former US Vice President and Environmentalist Al Gore, called the draft “obsequious” and noted that it “reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word.” 

“It is even worse than many had feared,” he said. 

Spain’s Environment Minister, Teresa Ribera, a co-leader of the EU delegation at the Cop28 UN climate summit, similarly said that there are elements in the text that are “fully unacceptable.” 

Speaking to reporters about the draft, Destination Zero Founder and Executive Director, Catherine Abreu, said: “It does seem again, like a compromise has been made for a small minority of countries, and the vast majority of countries have been left out of this text.”

However, Abreu said there’s still time to change. “This is not the final text; this will change.”

“Parties have the ability to push for a significant change in the energy transition text, as well as the other pieces of text, like the finance text that we know needs strengthening. So, we need countries showing up strong in the plenary tonight and demanding that we go back to the drawing board on some of the weakened parts of this text, and that the next draft that we see tomorrow is significantly strengthened and phases back in phase out.”

Frustration and disappointment are brimming and earlier today, 12-year-old Licypriya Kangujam, a child climate justice activist from India, stormed a panel stage to protest against climate inaction, holding a sign that read “End fossil fuels. Save our planet and our future” to an auditorium of applause. She has now been removed from the summit. 

Country divisions

Saudi Arabia, once again, has been highlighted as one of the countries pushing for the exclusion of phase-out language, alongside Iraq. 

Indeed, the Kingdom’s Energy Minister HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman was recently quoted as saying, “Absolutely not,” to a phase-out.

Earlier today, prior to the release of the draft, COP28 Presidency, HE Dr Sultan Al Jaber urged: “We need a text agreed by everyone on greenhouse gases,” adding, “It boils down to the need for all parties to come to terms (with the fact) that we will deliver the highest ambition. All parties should come to terms with this fact.”

Yesterday, Al Jaber expressed that he was unsatisfied with the pace of progress, and today, Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, launched a call for negotiators to “reject incrementalism.”

And while Stiell warned that an “I win – you lose” approach is a “recipe for collective failure,” at this point, it seems unlikely that a different approach will be taken. 

Unabated fossil fuels and unproven CCS

Something which many countries are advocating for is wording around the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels. What does this mean? Unabated emissions are the uncaptured emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels. 

The text refers to unabated fossil fuels three times and puts forward the acceleration of abatement and removal technologies, including carbon capture and utilisation and storage, which has raised eyebrows. 

Indeed, while some are trumpeting carbon capture technologies for their potential in the energy transition – it’s important to take note of a few points. CCS is not proven at scale, it requires huge amounts of energy to operate, and it’s pricey. Moreover, according to Oil Change International, at present, nearly 80 per cent of CCS is used in Enhanced Oil Recovery. 

The inclusion of “low carbon hydrogen production,” has also been a point of concern for many.

In his COP28 Presidency formal plenary remarks, HE Dr Sultan Al Jaber said: “We have a text, and we need to agree on the text. The time for discussion is coming to an end. And there is no time for hesitation. The time to decide is now.”

Al Jaber was meant to address the media at a planned news conference following the publishing of the text, but cancelled at the last minute. 

Food systems & adaptation

Food systems are mentioned just once within the text, but in the bracket of adaptation. Indeed, “sustainable agriculture,” and “resilient food systems,” appear alongside nature-based solutions, ecosystem-based approaches, and protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems, which it said “may offer economic, social and environmental benefits such as improved resilience and wellbeing,” and that “adaptation can mitigate impacts and losses.”

A waiting game

The response to the text has been, understandably, largely negative, but it’s not over. Tuesday will likely seep into Wednesday, and perhaps even Thursday, as delegates must reach a consensus for any deal to go through. 

It will be a tense few days, to say the least.

Stay tuned for more updates from ESG Mena on the ground in Dubai at COP28.

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