Four days before the outcome, negotiators from around the world are discussing the future of oil, gas and coal on Friday at COP28 in Dubai, trying to shape a compromise between the scientific imperative to exit fossil fuels and the necessary development economy of emerging countries.
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A sign of the ambient excitement, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) “urgently” asked its 23 member or associated countries and their delegations to “reject” any text or any formulation targeting fossil fuels “rather than emissions” of greenhouse gases, in a letter consulted the same day by AFP.
It would be “unacceptable for politically motivated campaigns to endanger the prosperity and future of our people,” he said.
And this at a time when negotiators are frantically going through the latest draft agreement made public in the afternoon and which went from 108 to 206 articles in one week, with the aim of finishing the COP on time on Tuesday. This document provides one, two, three or more options on many items.
New formulas have appeared: on fossil fuels, five options are now proposed, including that of having “no text” – nothing on the subject – or even “an exit from fossil fuels aligned with the best available scientific knowledge”.
“Reduction” or “exit”?
Two other formulations for exiting fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) emphasize the capture of emissions, a red rag waved by many countries including those of the European Union.
But their plight is also mentioned in the passage that calls for a tripling of the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030. In short, one option is: agree to replace fossil fuels but only as and as renewables move upmarket.
A phraseology which echoes a joint declaration in November between China and the United States, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Beijing and Washington committed to “sufficiently accelerate the deployment of renewables (…) in order to accelerate the replacement of electricity production from coal, oil and gas”.
“I think that in the end many countries could be able to accept an exit” from so-called “unabated” fossil fuels, that is to say burned without carbon capture devices, “because it would look more like a reduction than an exit,” John Verdieck, director of international climate policy at The Nature Conservancy, analyzed for AFP.
This weakening of the text would still create “a good signal” by including for the first time the term “exit” in a UN text of such importance, explained this former climate negotiator for the American State Department.
The Emirati president of COP28 and boss of the United Arab Emirates national oil company, Sultan Al Jaber, did not promise that coal, gas and oil would appear in the final text but he repeated on Friday, as he has done for six month, that the reduction in the place given to fossil fuels was “inevitable”.
“It is certain that the decline in the consumption of fossil fuels will occur, in the long term,” he insisted at a press conference. However, in an allusion to his usual position according to which we should not get rid of oil too quickly, he again called himself “realistic, pragmatic”.
“We must be fair. We must be fair. We must be orderly and responsible in the energy transition,” he said.
The bottom line: poor countries need energy to provide access to electricity, transport and development to their citizens; If rich countries want to end oil, they must set an example and finance solar and other renewable energies in the rest of the world.
“We will not find an agreement without China”, underlined the entourage of the French Minister of Energy Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher.
Despite its opposition to a sudden exit from fossil fuels, of which it is the world’s largest consumer, China is considered “constructive”, participants report, unlike Saudi Arabia, which is accused of obstructionism.
The Chinese negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, is holding more meetings, seeming to indicate that his country wants to avoid a final fiasco.
Like every day, gatherings enlivened the aisles of COP28.
Dozens of young people called for an end to fossil fuels, during a demonstration organized by “Fridays for Future”, the school strike movement launched by the absent Swedish Greta Thunberg.
If COP28 fails to call for an exit from these, “this will call into question the credibility (…) of the entire COP process”, also warned the young Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate.
Defenders of the Palestinian cause, for their part, assured on Friday that they face unprecedented restrictions when they want to demonstrate on the sidelines of COP28: flags are banned, they only have access to restricted areas and their slogans are scrutinized.