COP28 climate talks go into overtime amid standoff over fossil fuels

A flurry of shuttle diplomacy is under way at the UN-led negotiations in the UAE as countries fight over the wording of a potential deal.

Climate activists protest against fossil fuels at Dubai's Expo City during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28
Climate activists protest against fossil fuels at Dubai's Expo City during the COP28 climate talks in Dubai [Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

The COP28 climate talks have gone into overtime as countries grapple over the wording of a potential agreement on the issue of fossil fuels.

There was a flurry of shuttle diplomacy as the UN-led conference extended past midday on Tuesday after nearly two weeks of speeches, demonstrations and negotiations with many countries criticising a draft text released on Monday for failing to call for the total phase-out of oil, gas and coal.

(Al Jazeera)

The COP28 director general for the United Arab Emirates, Majid Al Suwaidi, said the aim of the draft text was to “spark conversations”.

“The text we released was a starting point for discussions,” Al Suwaidi said at a news conference on Tuesday. “When we released it, we knew opinions were polarised, but what we didn’t know was where each country’s red lines were.”

Monday’s draft prompted negotiations that ran overnight into early Tuesday at the talks in Dubai.

German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan said the talks were in a “critical, critical phase”.

“There is a lot of shuttle diplomacy going on,” she said on X, formerly Twitter.

The draft text mentioned eight nonbinding options countries could take in cutting emissions, including 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″.

This is the first time a UN summit has mentioned reducing the use of all fossil fuels.

Too weak?

The draft text was criticised as too weak by countries that included Australia, Canada, Chile, Norway and the United States. They are among nearly 100 nations that want a complete phase-out of coal, oil and natural gas use.

Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are the main cause of climate change. However, such fuels still produce nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy.

A new draft was supposed to be completed on Tuesday, but ongoing negotiations have prevented that from happening.

Deals at UN climate summits must be passed by consensus, and countries are then responsible for implementing them through their own national policies.

Different timeframes?

Countries in the Global South charge that richer countries should quit fossil fuels first because they have been using and producing them far longer.

“The transition should be premised on differentiated pathways to net zero and fossil fuel phase-down,” said Collins Nzovu, green economy minister for Zambia, which chairs the African group of countries in UN climate talks.

“We should also recognise the full right of Africa to exploit its natural resources sustainably,” he added.

Brazil is on board with forgoing fossil fuels but wants a deal that makes clear that rich and poor nations should do so on different timeframes, Environment Minister Marina Silva said.

OPEC countries, meanwhile, are the strongest resistors of a fossil fuel phase-out.

Sources told the Reuters news agency that the UAE’s COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber faced pressure from Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC, to drop any mention of fossil fuels in the final agreement.

‘Death sentence’

Meanwhile, participants from small island nations, which are among the countries hit hardest by rising sea levels, said they would not approve a deal akin to a “death warrant”.

“How do we go home and tell them the result? That the world has sold us out? ” Briana Fuean, a climate activist from Samoa, asked. “I can’t answer that. We are sitting in rooms being asked to negotiate our death sentence.”

Joseph Sikulu of Pacific Climate Warriors shed tears while talking about the draft text.

“We didn’t come here to sign our death sentence,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies