Oil-exporting countries will be called upon to reduce their production drastically in the coming decades, if a draft agreement published at the COP28 UN summit on Monday is accepted.
The text avoids highly contentious calls for a “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuels, which have been the focus of deep disagreement among the more than 190 countries meeting in Dubai.
The COP28 presidency released a draft text in the early evening on Monday, which called for “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, so as to achieve net zero by, before or around 2050, in keeping with the science”.
The text is expected to form the key outcome of this fortnight of fraught talks on the future of climate action, which are scheduled to end tomorrow morning in the United Arab Emirates.
If the commitment on fossil fuels survives an expected onslaught from the negotiators of big oil-producing countries, it would mark the first time that countries had agreed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, parent treaty to the Paris agreement, to make big cuts in their fossil fuel production.
Governments will now have an opportunity to make their views known, and are expected to wrangle hard over the wording. For some countries that wanted an unambiguous phase-out of fossil fuels, the reference to reduction will be regarded as a weakening.
But others, such as Saudi Arabia, which has firmly refused to countenance a phase-out or phase-down of fossil fuels, may use the final hours of these talks to try to weaken the text further.
A spokesperson for the presidency said: “The COP28 presidency has been clear from the beginning about our ambitions. This text reflects those ambitions and is a huge step forward. Now it is in the hands of the parties, who we trust to do what is best for humanity and the planet.”
The Guardian understands that Sultan Al Jaber, president of the COP28 summit, who is also the chief executive of the UAE national oil company, Adnoc, came under intense pressure to water down the text further, which he resisted, after spending the past 24 hours talking to country delegations.
The text tackles the issue of fossil fuel production head on, rather than referring to the emissions from fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia has been trying throughout the conference to insist on the term fossil fuel emissions, in place of fossil fuel production, in order to leave room for the use of carbon capture and storage.
The text also avoids the term “unabated”, which some countries wanted to insert, which also refers to the use of CCS. The head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, has described the use of CCS to allow oil companies to carry on producing as a “fantasy” and an “illusion”.
The language includes a reference to scientific advice, which many countries are likely to take as a reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world’s leading climate scientists, which has concluded that there can be only a very small role for fossil fuels in 2050, if the world is to meet net zero emissions and limit global heating to 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels. Fossil fuel reductions “in keeping with the science” would therefore have to be drastic in the next two and a half decades.
Some countries are disappointed that the text does not require a full phase-out of fossil fuels.
Seve Paeniu, Tuvalu’s finance minister, told The Guardian: “This is not good at all. There is no reference to a phase-out. That is a worry. And it provides countries with options rather than obligations, and that is worrisome.”
He said Tuvalu would continue to press for stronger language.
“We will continue to fight for strong language in the next hours. We want a phase-out and we want that language to be reflected in the text.”
AOSIS Chair Samoan Minister Cedric Schuster said: “We are concerned that the process at this time is not in the spirit of multilateralism. As SIDS we feel our voices are not being heard while it appears that several other parties have enjoyed preferential treatment”
Niue Minister for Natural Resources Mona Ainu’u said “The legacy that we hoped this COP28 would leave for our island nations is now in grave danger. We are seeing very weak language on commitments for the phase out of fossil fuel,” a tearful Minister Esa Ainuu spoke to the media as AOSIS holds strong to 1.5.
COP23 President and former Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said” I’ve seen the new draft text at COP28.
It is a death note for the Pacific. I urge negotiators to hold the line on a fossil fuel phase-out.
It is now or never,” he said on X formerly Twitter.
Joseph Sikulu, Pacific Managing Director, 350.org said: “The COP28 draft text is unacceptable, and far below the ambition required to keep our islands afloat. This week, we felt that the goal of phasing out fossil fuels was within reach, but the lack of climate leadership shown by the presidency and the blatant watering down of commitments to a “wish list” is an insult to those of us that came here to fight for our survival. How do we go home and tell our people that this is what the world has to say about our futures?”
Andreas Sieber, 350.org Associate Director of Policy and Campaigns,” The COP28 draft text resembles a disjointed wish list, far from the stringent measures required to limit warming to 1.5°C. The presidency, displaying a troubling lack of leadership, has notably weakened commitments to phasing out fossil fuels and promoting renewables. By framing actions as ‘could’ instead of ‘shall’, and with weak language on short-term declines and renewable targets, this draft falls short. Nations committed to climate action must reject this weakened proposal, insisting on transformative changes for a meaningful impact on global warming.”
Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders group of former global politicians, said: “It is not good enough to say you recognise and respect the science but then fail to take heed of its dire warnings in the collective action you commit to … It is not good enough to say you reaffirm the Paris agreement but to then fail to commit to a full fossil fuel phase-out.
“It is not good enough to use weak language or to permit loopholes for the fossil fuel industry to continue to contribute to the very problem countries are meant to be committed to tackling here in Dubai … this current version of the COP28 text is grossly insufficient.”
David Waskow, at the World Resources Institute, said: “This text doesn’t send the clear signals that are needed to avert the climate crisis. The suggested set of actions is merely a pick-your-own menu… But you can’t just pick one, or a couple, out of that list. The world is going to need to tackle all of those transformative changes together.”
Romain Ioualalen, policy lead at Oil Change International, a pressure group, said: “The latest draft is an incoherent and dangerous list of weak measures completely divorced from what is needed to limit warming to 1.5C. In contrast, the science is clear: a full, fast, fair and funded phase-out of all fossil fuels is essential to meet the requirements of the Paris agreement.”
COP28 President, Dr Sultan Al Jaber said: “We have made progress, but we still have a lot to do. I want you to deliver the highest ambition on all agenda items, including on fossil fuels language.” Other campaigners welcomed the text. Mohamed Adow, the director of Power Shift Africa, said: “This text lays the ground for transformational change. This is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.”