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29th Feb 2024

Final fight over oil and gas phase-out at COP28 looms

  • This year's COP28 climate summit is taking place is oil-rich United Arab Emirates (Photo: UNFCCC)
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As negotiators enter the final stretch of talks at the UN climate conference in Dubai, on Monday (11 December) a group of countries united in a call for a fossil-fuel phase-out.

A failure to reach an agreement on a definitive fossil-fuel exit date would be a "catastrophe," Denmark's minister for development and climate policy, Dan Jørgensen, told the press.

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Founded by Costa Rica and Denmark in 2021, the 24-member Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance includes Portugal, France, Ireland, the Marshall Islands and oil-rich Colombia.

"We as a country understand the reality of science, and science says that we need to phase out fossil fuels," said Susana Muhamad, Colombia's environment minister.

Every scenario assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists that would keep the world under 1.5 degrees warming suggests a rapid decline in oil and gas production and consumption is necessary in the remainder of this decade.

But a small group of countries resists any mention of a fossil-fuel exit, as officials are trying to finalise a deal before the COP28's scheduled finish on Tuesday.

Phase-out alliance ministers gathered on Monday refrained from calling out the blocking countries.

But last week, the OPEC oil cartel chief Haitham Al Ghais sent a letter urging its 13 members and allies to reject any mention of fossil fuels in the final deal, warning that "undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point".

EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra criticised the letter as "out of whack" with climate efforts.

However, the oil group, de facto led by its biggest-producing member, Saudi Arabia, has instead focused on reducing emissions rather than fossil fuels via so-called carbon capture and storage technology (CCS).

"If we are serious about curbing industrial emissions," COP28 president and boss of United Arab Emirates oil giant ADNOC Sultan Al Jaber said earlier this year when promoting the technology, "we need to get serious about carbon capture technologies."

The UN climate science panel says CCS cannot take the place of reducing fossil-fuel use worldwide. And researchers have warned that the technology is ineffective and costly.

But despite decades of accumulated evidence of the technology's shortcomings, reaching an agreement on a phase-out may prove difficult. '

China and India have both not explicitly supported a fossil-fuel phase-out.

And on Monday, a final negotiating text prepared by UAE's summit presidency was delayed.

"The presidency is trying to get to a document as a basis of negotiations, but it is hard," said Jørgensen.

If an agreement on a fossil fuel phase-out is reached, it will be non-legally binding.

When asked whether a non-binding deal can be effective, Seve Paeniu, the finance minister for climate-vulnerable island nation Tuvalu, told press that a group of 12 countries was pushing for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.

Although there is no indication that the world's major powers would support such a treaty, he told press that the eventual aim of such a treaty would "bind member states to phasing out fossil fuel."

"That is our aim," he added.

Other countries that support such a call include Colombia, Samoa and Vanuatu.

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