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US supports phasing out ‘unabated’ fossil fuels: US Climate envoy

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Nov 30, 2023 05:14 AM IST

US Climate envoy, John Kerry said US will support language on phasing out “unabated” fossil fuels in the UN Climate Summit’s (COP28) outcome document.

John Kerry, US climate envoy, on Wednesday said the US will support language on phasing out “unabated” fossil fuels in the UN Climate Summit’s (COP28) outcome document.

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 16, 2023. (REUTERS)
US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 16, 2023. (REUTERS)

In a joint statement after a meeting in Sapporo, Japan, in May, climate ministers of the G7, a grouping of wealthy nations, agreed “to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest”. However, they did not set a firm date for doing so.

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“We supported language requiring the phase-out of unabated fossil fuel, and we will continue to support that language. We supported it at the G7 and we support it now. We find it hard for anybody to understand how they would continue to allow unabated burning of fossil fuel in the world we’re living in, knowing what we know about the dangers. So, we do support an outcome in the global stocktake that builds on the G7 commitment to accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels, and to achieve net-zero emissions in all energy systems by mid-century,” Kerry said during a press briefing ahead of COP28’s opening day in Dubai.

“We still have people who have not signed up to that. They are, some of them, among the major producers of fossil fuel, and they need to immediately step up and be part of the solution, not the most significant part of the problem. And we hope we can send a very strong signal that the nations of the world are committed to work together to transition away from fossil fuel emissions in the next three decades. Period. It’s critical,” he added.

Kerry also added that US agrees with the outcome on operationalising the Loss and Damage fund in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. He however, clarified that US agrees to language that there is no liability or compensation associated with the fund. The Transitional Committee on Loss and Damage reached an agreement on operationalising the Loss and Damage fund late on November 4 in Abu Dhabi but with US objecting to the outcome. The final text was adopted late that night, but US and developing countries had several reservations to the text. The US wanted to withdraw support because it insisted the text make it clear that contributions to the fund are voluntary in nature.

“The US fully supports the consensus reached by the Transitional Committee on Loss and Damage, reached earlier this month. We think this fund …the way it is designed will meet the needs of the vulnerable countries. We worked hard to ensure this fund can act quickly by making the World Bank the initial repository,” Kerry said.

“This fund will meet recovery needs, damages from storms, moving people from harm’s way.. this fund has the pieces that we think need to be addressed, he said adding: “I think it’s important that the fund doesn’t represent any expression of liability or compensation or any new legal requirements but it is going to be there for those in the developing world who are facing the brunt and whose citizens in many cases are facing the consequences of not being able to adapt.”

Kerry further said that Global Stocktake is a unique opportunity to rally the world to significantly step up collective efforts to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

“We will stay focused on securing strong outcomes on three mandated negotiated issues goals 1. GST 2. Adaptation report 3. Standing up of the Loss and Damage fund,” he said highlighting the focus areas for US.

Kerry said the GST needs to urge credibility of the world by being candid, strong, visionary and comprehensive and needs to layout for the world what’s happened since Paris.

“At the time of Paris we were headed to 3.7 to 4 degree warming and now at 2.5 to 2.7 degree depends on who you are talking to. If promises are fulfilled, you could be at 1.7 to 1.8 degrees. Not everybody is doing what they promised to do and that is a problem for the lack of follow through by some,” he said.

Kerry said action on methane emissions globally will be one of the major focus areas for US in terms of non-negotiated outcomes.

“Methane is responsible for 50% of global heating that has taken place. Its far more damaging and destructive that CO2. We also think it’s the easiest, quickest, fastest and cheapest way to begin to get gains against the warming. So, there will be major focus on methane…” he added.

HT had reported on November 19 that the US plans to focus on pushing for curbs on methane emission globally in a big way at the upcoming UN climate conference to be held in Dubai, officials said in a briefing. The US, China and the United Arab Emirates will also hold a methane and other non- greenhouse gas summit during COP28.

China and India have not signed the Global Methane Pledge yet, according to the International Energy Agency. The pledge was launched by the US and the European Union at the 2021 climate summit in Glasgow. Around 110 countries have committed to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions from human activity by at least 30% compared with 2020 levels by 2030.

The major source of methane are anthropogenic sources, especially agriculture, followed by the oil and gas sector and waste, the IEA said. Methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide (around 12 years compared with centuries for CO2), but it is a much more potent greenhouse gas, absorbing much more energy while it exists in the atmosphere, the agency added.

India had not signed the methane pledge mainly because of its potential repercussions for small and medium farmers and the agricultural sector.

On a question raised in the Rajya Sabha in 2021 on why India is not a signatory to the pledge, the environment ministry said that in the context of food security, India’s methane emissions are “survival” emissions.

“The distinction between ‘phasing down’ and ‘phasing out’ fossil fuels is crucial in climate discourse. ‘Phasing out’ signifies a definitive end to the use of fossil fuels, aligning with urgent climate goals. In contrast, ‘phasing down’ suggests a gradual reduction without a clear or specific timeline, potentially prolonging reliance on these energy sources. The inclusion of ‘unabated’ in commitments often serves as a loophole. It allows continued fossil fuel use in manufacturing sectors such as steel and cement, under the guise of emission reduction technologies which are often ineffective and unreliable. This subtle language can provide a free pass to polluters, enabling them to extend fossil fuel exploitation under the pretext of gradual reduction or technological mitigation, ultimately undermining global climate action,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.

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