Cop 28 parties brace for tough fossil fuel talks

  • Market: Crude oil, Emissions, Natural gas
  • 12/08/23

A new draft stocktake text includes a growing number of fossil fuel options, reflecting the divisions at Cop, write Caroline Varin and Georgia Gratton

Fossil fuels are the focus of the UN Cop 28 climate summit as it moves into the final phase of negotiations, with ministers bracing themselves for arduous talks. The pressure for parties to send strong signals on fossil fuels has clearly increased during the summit, but the divisions on whether to include language on cutting their production and use remain huge.

The global stocktake — a measurement of progress towards the UN's Paris Agreement — will be the main outcome of this Cop. The stocktake — dubbed the "mother of all cover decisions" by EU negotiator Jacob Werksman — is intended toinform the next round of countries' emissions reduction plans, due in 2025. It is "so comprehensive" that it links all other issues up for discussion at Cop 28, NGO Climate Action Network international climate policy expert Sven Harmeling says.

A new draft text for the global stocktake was released on 8 December — described as "refined building blocks" designed to act as a starting point for ministerial discussions. The draft text contained an increased number of options on the table compared with the first draft, released earlier at the summit. Options include "a phase out of fossil fuels in line with best available science", as well as an option that goes further, urging alignment with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. Two more options call for phasing out "unabated fossil fuels", peaking consumption this decade, and "underlining the importance for the energy sector to be predominantly free of fossil fuels well ahead of 2050", and a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels, "rapidly reducing their use so as to achieve net zero CO2 in energy systems by or around mid-century". The final option is for no text on the topic.

The increase in options could reflect multiplying opinions. But new wording around tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030, which 128 countries have now committed to, links the scaling up of renewables to a reduction in fossil fuels, possibly to alleviate concerns around energy security. It outlines "ensuring that the increase in renewable energy capacity is strategically implemented to displace fossil fuel-based energy". It is key to match a scale-back of fossil fuels with an increase in renewables, think-tank E3G policy adviser Tom Evans says. "We do need both sides of the coin".

Hard to debate

The draft text still contains wording around abatement technologies, which are largely undefined but would include carbon capture and storage (CCS). This suggests these could be a potential bargaining chip in negotiations around cutting or ending the use of fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, reiterated that the Paris accord "focuses on limiting emissions and not on the source of these emissions" — a line that it has long pushed.

Abatement technologies are expensive and remain unproven at scale, and parties are divided on the issue. The Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean — a UN voting bloc — opposes them as "a tacit endorsement for the continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry". EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra says his bloc sees CCS as "a minor part of the solutions space".

The work of the UAE presidency in facilitating negotiations could be instrumental. The UAE is a key oil and gas producer, and Cop 28 president Sultan al-Jaber is also the chief executive of Abu Dhabi's state-owned oil company Adnoc. He is under pressure to demonstrate he can be the neutral broker the UNFCCC — the UN's climate body — demands. If the UAE is not able to land an outcome on fossil fuels, "there will be this political pain that they will have to reckon with", non-profit World Resources Institute associate Jamal Srouji says.


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