Saudi Arabia, Iraq stonewall COP28 efforts on fossil fuel phase-out

Published December 11, 2023
Participants walk past banners at the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 3, 2023. — AFP
Participants walk past banners at the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 3, 2023. — AFP

DUBAI: With less than 48 hours left before the UN climate summit officially comes to an end, oil producers Saudi Arabia and Iraq resisted moves to agree to a phase-out of fossil fuels, a key demand at the COP28.

Over 80 countries, including the US, European Union and members of Pacific Island states threatened by rising seas have been some of the most vocal in calling for a phase-out of oil, gas and coal.

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber urged negotiators on Sunday to work harder to find consensus, inviting ministers to give their views at a majlis-style consultation.

He said he was asking all countries to suggest wording for a consensus on fossil fuels, adding: “Now, the time has come for all parties to constructively engage… Failure is not an option”.

The main obstacle to an agreement has been the entrenched stance of OPEC members, led by Saudi Arabia, who argue that the focus of the COP28 should be on reducing emissions, not on targeting the fuel sources that cause them.

Riyadh said on Sunday that its “perspectives” and “concerns” must be taken into account at the COP28 climate talks, with its energy minister saying he would “absolutely not” agree to a phase-down.

China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, said on Saturday that a COP28 deal can only be considered a success if it includes an agreement on fossil fuels, though he did not say whether Beijing would back a phase-out deal.

“The majority here wants fossil-fuel language, language that takes us away from fossil fuels, that indicates a desire for us to move according to the science, according to the 1.5 degree target,” Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s climate change minister, told AFP.

“We need the small minority of countries that is blocking progress to shift the position, and that’s what we’re working on for the next couple of days,” he said. Scientists say the world must end its use of fossil fuels if it is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the most catastrophic climate scenarios.

After the meeting, EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra said there was “a majority, some would say a supermajority, of countries here present who want to push forward for more ambition”.

At the majlis, China’s representative said climate action was a “marathon, not a sprint”. He said developed nations are ahead of the pack and should help developing countries by providing the funds needed for their energy transitions.

Britain and Australia were among the few countries to offer a glimmer of compromise, saying flexibility on the fossil fuel language was possible as long as there were enough safeguards.

Bolivia denounced the “hypocrisy” of countries that press the developing world on climate change while expanding their own production of fossil fuels.

Standing in the middle of the circle, Jaber closed the meeting by urging countries to make the event be known as a “change-makers majlis”. To deliver the “very balanced, ambitious outcome, we need you to act as the change-makers,” he said, adding: “I hope that you won’t let me down”.

A third draft of a deal, released on Friday, offers various ways to phase out fossil fuels but also includes the option to avoid the issue entirely. A new text is expected on Monday.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2023

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