China said on Saturday it saw progress in reaching a climate deal at a key United Nations summit in Dubai, despite a last-minute push by the Opec oil cartel to resist a phase-out of fossil fuels.
Opec drew outrage from green-minded countries and activists when it joined Saudi Arabia and called on members to block an emerging declaration that would seek to wind down extraction of the oil, coal, and gas that are fuelling the climate emergency.
But China, the world’s largest oil importer, played down the row and said it was working to find a solution that was “acceptable to all parties”.
“I think we’ve already had some progress on this issue and I believe we will have more progress in resolving this very soon in the coming few days,” China’s climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters at the COP28 climate conference.
“Because if we do not if we do not resolve this issue, I don’t see much chance of having a successful COP28,” he said.
Canadian climate minister Steven Guilbeault told AFP he was “confident” that the final text would contain language on fossil fuels, which emit planet-heating greenhouse gases.
Guilbeault is among a group of ministers who have been tasked by COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber — who is CEO of the UAE state oil giant ANDOC — to shepherd the negotiations and find an agreement by Tuesday when the summit is due to end.
“Different groups are talking and trying to understand on what we could agree but it’s still quite an embryonic conversation,” he added.
Spanish ecology transition minister Teresa Ribera, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said it was “quite a disgusting thing” for Opec countries to be “pushing against getting the bar where it has to be”.
French Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said the Opec statement left her “stunned” and “angry”.
Dramatically scaling up the deployment of renewable energy while winding down the production and consumption of fossil fuels is crucial to achieving the global goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“1.5 is not negotiable, and that means an end to fossil fuels,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, which chairs the High Ambition Coalition, a broad group of nations ranging from Barbados to France, Kenya, and Pacific island states.
Around seven activists protested in front of Opec’s booth at the COP28 venue, with their palms held up to show words such as “phase out”, according to video footage shared by the NGO 350.org.
A third draft deal released on Friday offers various ways to phase out fossil fuels but also includes the option of not mentioning them in the final text.
Assem Jihad, spokesman for Iraq’s oil ministry, told AFP that his country supported the Opec letter.
Iraqi oil minister Hayan Abdel Ghani had asked the country’s COP28 delegation to “ensure that the wording of the final statement puts the emphasis on world cooperation on a reduction of emissions in order to preserve the environment and climate”.
But another Opec member, oil-rich COP28 host the United Arab Emirates, has taken a conciliatory tone throughout the negotiations.
It says a phase-down of fossil fuels, rather than a phase-out, is “inevitable”.
Pannier-Runacher said she was “counting on the presidency of the COP not to be influenced” by the Opec letter.
A negotiator from a country in favour of a fossil fuel exit said the Arab group of nations was the only one to take a strong position against a phase-out.
A person working for the summit president’s office played down the objections by Saudi Arabia, saying it was normal for nations to push hard at the end.
“I don’t feel that we’re at that point where one is sticking their head above the parapet and being the troublemaker,” the person said on condition of anonymity.
However, German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan said countries were “now moving into the critical stage of negotiations” but she was “concerned that not all are constructively engaging”.
Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster, chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said the group was “extremely concerned”, considering the limited time left in Dubai.
AOSIS has pushed hard for a phase-out of fossil fuels, warning that rising seas threaten the island countries’ very existence.
“I implore you, let this COP28 be the summit where we leaders are remembered for turning the tide,” Schuster said.
He added that stepping up the use of renewable energy “cannot be a substitute for a stronger commitment to fossil fuel phase-out”.
Next year’s climate talks are likely to be held in another major producer of fossil fuels as Azerbaijan announced it had secured a consensus to host COP29.