Climate summit hits impasse over demands to phase out fossil fuels
(CN) — A United Nations climate summit was on the brink of ending in bitter disagreement and even collapse on Tuesday after oil-producing and developing nations said they opposed adopting a pledge to end using fossil fuels by 2050.
A major rift opened up at the conference, known as COP28, over the lack of language in a final statement calling for a “phasing-out” or “phasing-down” of fossil fuels. A draft text on Monday called for reducing the “consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.”
As of late Tuesday, no agreement on a statement had been reached and negotiations carried on into the night. Final decisions by COPs have to be reached by consensus.
This year's summit was hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a major oil and natural gas producer, and expectations were low going into the conference.
A combative mood settled over the summit after Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, an Emirati minister overseeing the conference who also heads the UAE national oil company ADNOC, was heard saying in a leaked video that phasing out fossil fuels will not achieve climate goals.
Western powers and vulnerable developing countries, such as small island nations at risk of sea level rise, demanded stronger language on ending fossil fuels while a group of oil producers in the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia, opposed that.
These Arab countries argued there is no scientific basis to the argument that fossil fuels need to be phased out by 2050 to reach a goal of keeping the planet from becoming 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the preindustrial era. This argument has been vehemently denied by a majority of climate scientists, who say drastic cuts to carbon emissions is the only safe route.
In 2015, the 1.5 C threshold was set as a goal at a climate summit in Paris. That summit's agreement laid the blueprint for climate action.
Some nations, including Bolivia and Iran, said they opposed demands to phase out fossil fuels because they argued the 2015 Paris agreement called for countries to take voluntary actions to reach climate goals.
Meanwhile, developing powerhouses like China, India and Pakistan were pushing to include language in the final text that would emphasize richer nations need to do more to fix the global warming caused by their industrialization.
China has taken the position that developed countries took more than 150 years to reach their peak in carbon emissions and that developing countries cannot be expected to go without fossil fuels any time soon.
Zhao Yingmin, China’s vice minister for Ecology and Environment, said “the draft fails to address the concerns of developing countries on some key issues” and in particular the idea that greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025.
Also, many developing nations wanted to see the final text include language about the need for rich nations to act first on climate and do more to help poorer nations to combat warming. Cuba was the lead negotiator for a bloc of 135 developing countries advocating this position.
Meanwhile, the European Union led calls for tougher language on phasing out the use of fossil fuels by 2050. American negotiators, headed by climate envoy John Kerry, took a similar approach and said it was critical to see a major reduction in fossil fuels this decade.
Kerry said the language on fossil fuels “does not meet the test” of keeping 1.5 degrees alive.
“I, like most of you here, refuse to be part of a charade” of not phasing out fossil fuels, Kerry said. “This is a war for survival.”
Small island nations spoke out fiercely about the proposed text.
Tuvalu delegation chief Seve Paeniu said pledging to reduce fossil fuels “doesn’t even come close to delivering” on pledges to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 C.
“For us this is a matter of survival. We cannot put loopholes in our children’s futures,” Paeniu said.
The summit has made progress in other areas, though.
Delegates pledged to triple global capacity of renewable energy by 2030 and backed the rapid phase-down of “unabated coal” and curtailing the number of new licenses for coal facilities.
Also, several rich countries, led by the UAE and Germany, announced large payments into a fund under the World Bank to pay for damages caused by climate change in poorer nations.
Creating the fund, commonly referred to as the “loss and damage fund,” has been a point of friction for years, with poorer countries growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of action to help them deal with climate change.