Is Cop28 on the verge of a historic fossil fuel decision?

Addressing the root cause of climate change has become defining issue at crucial summit

Cop28 is scheduled to finish on Tuesday. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Cop28

With fewer than three days left for a deal, the pressure at Cop28 is on.

The presidency is now working to reach an accord on key issues as the clock ticks down to the summit’s scheduled finish on Tuesday.

An agreement by the world's nearly 200 countries to end the use of fossil fuels – the primary driver of climate change – has emerged as the defining issue.

Is it possible that Cop28 could agree on historic language on the future of fossil fuels for the first time?

An agreed form of wording will need to be found, which might develop around the US-China Sunnylands text linking the phase-out with replacement with renewable energy
Antony Froggatt, Chatham House

The latest stocktake draft text shows five options, with one stating “no text”. While this is an improvement on previous versions, the fact a no-text option remains underlines how much work lies ahead. All four other options state phase-out and not phase-down, which is deemed looser.

A few days might seem a short time to reach an agreement but this is aeons in negotiating terms and we can expect major changes to the text as countries and national interests come into play.

More than 100 countries have called for phasing-out fossil fuels. But states such as Russia and Saudi Arabia have resisted such language on fossil fuels and Opec is rallying its members and allies to veto any deal.

The role of the US and China will be crucial. China's climate envoy Xie Zhenhua on Saturday said a deal on fossil fuels was important but also called Cop28 the “most difficult” of his career. There are divisions across the parties on the issue and time is running out.

Agreeing a global fossil fuel phase-out is 'not easy'

Agreeing a global fossil fuel phase-out is 'not easy'

“The presidency has done step one by including fossil fuel phase-out language options in the negotiations,” said Lisa Fletcher, climate expert at the E3G think tank. “But its job is not done here," she said.

“Eyes are also on the US – its Sunnylands statement with China pre-Cop has instilled hope in a good outcome. It can support the presidency by putting its weight behind an ambitious energy outcome, including the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Antony Froggatt, climate expert at Chatham House, said it appeared “highly unlikely” there would be no reference to fossil fuels in the decision text at Cop28, marking a contrast with Cop27 where the issue was not addressed at all.

“An agreed form of wording will need to be found, which might develop around the US-China Sunnylands text linking the phase-out with replacement with renewable energy,” he said.

There is also the question of finance. Developed countries will need to step up financial support from loss and damage to adaptation if progress on fossil fuels is to be made.

Low-lying nations demand action

Some blocs, such as the Alliance of Small Island States, have expressed concern at the slow pace of talks in areas such as climate adaptation, which means building sea walls and using drought-tolerant crops, while also calling for strong language on ending fossil fuels.

“It needs to be in the decision text at this Cop,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. “We have a fight ahead of us. We are ready for it.”

Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, has acknowledged “strong views about the idea of including language on fossil fuels and renewables in the negotiated text”. He also said during the summit that the phase-down and phase-out of fossil fuels is inevitable.

Also crucial in any final text will be the use of “unabated” – meaning the use of fossil fuels without the use of carbon-capture technology.

“There are encouraging signs of progress on an agreement to phase-out fossil fuels. However, there is fierce resistance from some countries,” said Sven Harmeling, Care Climate Justice Centre’s global policy lead.

"Key to unlocking the deadlock on fossil fuels is an improved financial package for developing countries. Without an ambitious outcome on adaptation and finance, it will be extremely tough to get an agreement over the line."

Dr Al Jaber will convene a majlis later on Sunday to assess the state of play and wants most of the work completed by Monday morning to ensure a timely conclusion.

“Now is the time to shift gears and get to consensus,” he said in a plenary on Saturday.

Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, said Cop28 must make a “clear decision” to phase out fossil fuels.

"The world awaits a strong, unified message that we are poised for a transition to a greener, more resilient world where we respect our planet's limits,” said Mr Singh.

Updated: December 11, 2023, 6:10 AM