Will COP28 finally ditch fossil fuels? Doesn’t look like it
Even so, any language on fossil fuels is a sensitive issue at COP28 and UN reports have indicated that top emitters globally are heavily invested in oil and gas
The language on phasing out or phasing down of planet- warming fossil fuels the global community ends up using is likely to be among the most contentious issues at the upcoming UN climate summit in Dubai, something that no party wishes to address.
With the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the two-week summit set to begin on November 30, the United Arab Emirates, which holds the presidency this year, is facing allegations of using the climate talks as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals.
The COP28 team of the UAE had plans to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations, the Centre for Climate Reporting and BBC reported on Sunday, based on briefing documents seen by them.
“The documents referred to in the BBC article are inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings,” a COP28 spokesperson said on Tuesday. “It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting.”
Even so, any language on fossil fuels is a sensitive issue at COP28 and UN reports have indicated that top emitters globally are heavily invested in oil and gas. The challenge of getting top emitters on board was also revealed by COP28 director-general Majid Al Suwaidi, who said fossil fuels are a “complicated” issue for all parties, referring to the participating nations.
“We know that this is a complicated issue for all parties. We have said from the beginning that this is a party driven process, our job is to get parties together to discuss and find consensus and we will see how that is addressed. It’s not our job to see what the COP should or shouldn’t be,” Suwaidi said on November 17. “What’s also important to think about is how we are addressing the issue of keeping global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius and the 22 GT (giga tonnes) emission-reductions needed, how do we get to where we want to be in a practical, realistic, honest and equitable way.”
It is expected that the agreement at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Delhi will also be reflected in the COP28 cover text, which covers all decisions taken during the conference.
The New Delhi Declaration in September committed to achieving global net- zero emissions by or around mid-century, while taking into account the latest scientific developments and in line with different national circumstances. It also committed to tripling renewable energy capacity globally “through existing targets and policies, as well as demonstrating similar ambition with respect to other zero and low-emission technologies, including abatement and removal technologies, in line with national circumstances by 2030.” Expectedly, the declaration was silent on phasing out or phasing down of fossil fuels.
“You can see the influence of countries highly dependent on oil and gas in the text. Their concerns have been addressed. Low carbon options could mean biofuels or green hydrogen for us or others; it could also mean clean petrol or gas to others,” a former climate negotiator said on condition of anonymity, referring to the G20 text. “We should also note that the declaration refers to nuclear energy. There had been no focus on nuclear so far because of safety concerns. And there is a clear reference to enhancing carbon capture and storage technologies.”
The US and the European Union EU have suggested support for language on “phasing out unabated fossil fuels”, according to a statement by the European Council on October 16 and the US’ submission on the global stocktake to the UNFCCC. But both have pushed for immediately ceasing permits to new coal power generation.
The latest developments should also be seen in the light of two reports, “Planet Wreckers” by OilChange International and the Production Gap Report 2023 by United Nations Environment Programme and Stockholm Environment Institute, experts said.
Only 20 countries could be responsible for nearly 90% of the carbon dioxide pollution from new oil and gas fields and fracking wells planned between 2023 and 2050, the Oil Change International report.
“Among these 20 countries, five global north governments stand out as the biggest climate hypocrites and most egregious Planet Wreckers: the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom,” said the report by Oil Change International, an advocacy group.
These five countries account for a majority (51%) of planned expansion from new oil and gas fields through 2050. If all 20 governments said no to their planned new oil and gas production, as the UN secretary general has been urging them to, 173 billion tonnes of carbon pollution would be kept in the ground, the report projected.
National governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, the Production Gap Report 2023 said. Major producer countries have pledged to achieve net- zero emissions, but none have committed to reduce coal, oil, and gas production in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, it said.
“For over a century, energy from fossil fuels has helped to deliver jobs, revenue, and economic growth around the world,” the UN report said. “Consequently, most governments view coal, oil, and gas as sources of geopolitical power, energy security, and development.”
For example, the US continues to be the top oil and gas producer in the world, and was fourth in coal production In 2021. The US government spent over $90 million on fossil fuel production abroad via the US Export-Import Bank and a further $25 million in 2022.
During the 2021 climate summit, the US and 39 other countries signed the Glasgow Statement, pledging to halt public financing for unabated fossil fuel energy projects abroad by the end of 2022 and spend on clean energy instead. But EXIM has since approved $99.7 million for a refinery expansion in Indonesia.
For India, coal production is on an increasing trajectory till 2030, but there is no data for oil and gas. For Russia, all three are on the rise. In the US, coal is on a decline, but oil and gas production is expected to increase. In China, coal is on a decline but gas production is increasing. In Canada, both oil and gas are increasing. In Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both oil and gas are expected to increase in production until at least 2030, the UN report said.
Sunita Narain, director general of Centre for Science and Environment and member of COP28 Advisory Committee, said, “It’s very interesting for me to see how the western media jumps on to the question of fossil fuels in our part of the world. I saw a report on Saudi Arabia having a deal with South Africa on oil and gas. But the fact is that oil and gas has increased in the US. UK is talking of new drilling in the North Sea. We are talking of massive exploration happening in the developed part of the world. US is the largest producer of oil and gas in the world. Its making deals with post the Ukraine war with several countries to sell their oil and gas. We need a phase-out of oil and gas but we need to see it first in the developed world.”