The COP28 climate summit in Dubai has reached a critical juncture as nations debate whether to include language around phasing out fossil fuels in the final agreement. Tensions are running high after OPEC nations circulated a letter urging members to resist efforts targeting fossil fuels.
Background on the COP28 Summit
The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP28, brings together leaders from around the world to set emission reduction targets and commit financing with the goal of limiting global warming.
This year’s summit is being hosted in Dubai, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE’s selection as host has been controversial given its status as a major oil producer. The president of the conference, Sultan Al Jaber, also serves as CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
Over 45,000 participants from nearly 200 countries are in attendance, including 125 heads of state and government. Key items on the agenda include setting rules for a new carbon trading marketplace, addressing loss and damage caused by climate change impacts, and revising emissions reduction commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
OPEC Urges Members to Oppose Fossil Fuel Phase Out
A tense atmosphere permeated the summit on Friday after a leaked letter revealed that OPEC, a bloc composed primarily of Middle Eastern crude oil exporters, had urged its member nations to resist language around phasing out oil and gas production.
The letter argued there was “no sound scientific basis” for eliminating the use of fossil fuels. It also stated targeting a single energy source would be “discriminatory and counterproductive.”
OPEC nations doubled down on defending oil and gas, arguing they were needed to ensure energy security:
“We need all energies, including oil and gas, to address the challenges and energy security,” said Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, Qatar’s minister of state for energy affairs.
France, Spain and Denmark issued scathing responses, with Denmark’s climate minister calling the letter “deeply provocative” and France stating they felt “disgust.”
The leaked letter laid bare divisions between nations that rely heavily on fossil fuel wealth and those leading the charge to rapidly transition to clean energy.
Battle Lines Drawn Over Defining Fossil Fuel Phase Out
Language around phasing out fossil fuels has become a major sticking point in negotiations.
The current draft agreement references the need to accelerate “efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”
Over 100 nations support amending the text to expand beyond just coal and specifically target oil and gas phase outs as well. These countries argue setting a clear end date for fossil fuel use is crucial to meeting emissions reductions consistent with 1.5°C warming limits.
However, nations such as Saudi Arabia and Russia have staunchly opposed singling out or explicitly targeting reductions from oil and gas.
With OPEC urging defiance, battle lines appeared firmly drawn:
|Support Fossil Fuel Phase Out Language
|Oppose Fossil Fuel Phase Out Language
|Alliance of Small Island States
|Least Developed Countries
Reaching consensus will likely require complex negotiations in the summit’s final hours.
What’s at Stake if No Agreement Reached
Failure to achieve breakthroughs on key issues like the fossil fuel phase down could undermine global emissions reduction efforts.
Most scientists argue the 1.5° warming limit to avoid climate change’s most disastrous impacts is only feasible if fossil fuel use rapidly declines in the near future. The longer emissions cuts are delayed, the more unlikely it becomes to restrict warming.
If existing climate commitments under measures like the Paris Agreement aren’t strengthened, some estimates suggest:
- The planet could see 2.5 – 2.8°C warming above pre-industrial averages by 2100
- Sea levels may rise 2-3 feet higher by 2100 compared to today
- Extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding could become widespread occurences
In a passionate speech, UN Secretary General António Guterres told delegates the 1.5°C goal was “on life support” but warned “we are not giving up.”
With the stakes so high, negotiations are expected to drag late into the night over the weekend. It remains unclear if enough common ground can be forged across such divergent national interests to produce an impactful deal.
What Happens Next at the Summit?
Assuming areas of compromise can be found, the final days of COP28 will involve:
- Finalizing text around emissions reductions, loss and damage financing, adapting to climate impacts and the fossil fuel phase down debate
- Ministers signing the completed agreement and submitting updated national climate action plans
- Determining next steps and the host location for COP29 in 2024
Several more days of tense talks lie ahead. But with scientific warnings about irreversible climate tipping points growing increasingly dire, the pressure is immense on global leaders to set aside their differences and take decisive action this week in Dubai.
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