Climate summit in Dubai headed for overtime as fury over fossil fuels widens divide

Sultan Al Jaber, President of the COP28 climate summit, speaks at a presentation on December 2, 2023 in Dubai. COP28 is supposed to end December 12 but major divisions remain between the countries.

Sultan Al Jaber, President of the COP28 climate summit, speaks at a presentation on December 2, 2023 in Dubai. COP28 is supposed to end December 12 but major divisions remain between the countries.Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesDubaiCNN — 

International negotiators at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai are preparing for a long day of painstaking negotiations that are likely to stretch into overtime, as deep divisions remain over whether to phase out fossil fuels.

An ambitious deadline set by the United Arab Emirates’ COP28 presidency to strike a deal on a package of agreements expired Tuesday, the last official day of the summit. COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber had called for the package to be finalized by 11 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).

But negotiators were still scrambling bilateral and group meetings after that time to try to bridge the wide divide after a draft of the centerpiece agreement published Monday dropped references to phasing out fossil fuels, language which had appeared in previous iterations.

Ad Feedback

The watered down draft instead calls on countries to reduce planet-heating pollution, offering a list of actions that countries “could” take, one of which is reducing the consumption and production of oil, coal and gas.

The draft stoked fury from climate advocates and the more ambitious countries at the talks. The former US Vice President Al Gore warned in a post on X Monday that the summit “is now on the verge of complete failure.”

“The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word,” Gore said. “It is even worse than many had feared.”

The secretary-general of the oil-producing group OPEC, Haitham Al Ghais, called on members and allies last week to “proactively reject” any language that targeted fossil fuels rather than emissions.

Controversy over the oil industry’s influence on the conference has swirled since Al Jaber — who leads the UAE’s state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company — was appointed to lead the summit. The fossil fuel industry was given record access to the conference, a recent analysis showed.

The annual climate talks rarely finish on time, but this year’s negotiations have been particularly fraught. Some nations are saying they won’t sign on to the draft as is. It is possible a new draft will emerge later Tuesday.

Several Australian media reports quoted Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen as saying the so-called Umbrella Group of countries — which includes Australia, the US, UK, Canada and Norway — would not sign the draft as it stands.

The UK would not confirm that position to CNN, though a government spokesperson said Monday that the country’s position was clear, “there must be a phase out of unabated fossil fuels to meet our climate goals.”

People walk through the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

‘Verge of complete failure’: Climate summit draft drops the mention of fossil fuel phase-out, angering advocates

“The UK is working with all parties and will continue to push for an ambitious outcome at COP28 that keeps 1.5 degrees in reach,” the spokesperson said.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq were among the countries that did not want reference to a phase-out of fossil fuels in the text, Catherine Abreu, founder and executive director of the nonprofit group Destination Zero told reporters in Dubai. Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA said the country’s delegation to COP28 was “reaffirming” its rejection of a phase-out as well.

The EU delegation met with its allies in the High Ambition Coalition on Tuesday to hammer out its next move, while its leaders — Wopke Hoekstra and Teresa Ribera — held a discussion with UN Secretary General António Guterres and representatives of its 27 member states.

“We need to keep a 1.5 degree figure alive. It is what science demands and our kids deserve,” Hoekstra said on X, along with a photo of him meeting with the High Ambition Coalition.

Climate experts and observers have blasted the latest draft for its vague language and a lack of concrete timelines.

“This draft comes with a huge qualifier of ‘could’ at the top that makes all the listed actions optional for nations,” Rachel Cleetus, the policy director and a lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

“It has a laundry list of actions filled with glaring loopholes, including a lack of meaningful timelines.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *