Anger at 'watered-down' COP28 draft deal on fossil fuels

There is anger at the COP28 conference, as instead of phasing out the use of fossil fuels, the policies appear to be "watering down" pledges to stop global warming, as Martin Stew reports

The grand finale of COP28 looks set to be a "watered-down" deal that does not include phasing out fossil fuels, according to a draft agreement unveiled on Monday, leaving representatives from vulnerable countries angry at the lack of progress.

The draft goes against the wishes of more than 100 nations that called for fossil fuels to be cut out, and instead said countries should reduce “consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner."

It prompted government representatives to frantically tweak the new deal in the final hours of the conference in Dubai, although the negotiations are now expected to run beyond the official end time.

Small island nations, which are most at risk of rising temperatures and seas, were frustrated by the latest deal. All final decisions at COP events have to have consensus across attending countries.

Activists were concerned that big oil and gas-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia, raised objections to a stronger version of the deal that included harsher rules against fossil fuels, leading to the current, watered-down edition.

“What we have seen today is unacceptable,” Marshall Islands chief delegate and natural resources minister Samuel Silk said.

"We will not go silently to our watery graves. We will not accept an outcome that will lead to devastation for our country, and for millions if not billions of the most vulnerable people and communities.”

An uninhabited island that has slipped beneath the water line on Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Credit: AP

“Here who is winning is the fossil capital," Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister, said. “We need a phase-out. We need to acknowledge 43% reduction (of fossil fuels) by 2030."

European representatives were also disappointed by the weaker version of the plan.

Wopke Hoekstra, a European climate commissioner, said “the text as it now stands is disappointing," while Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the text “clearly insufficient and disappointing.”

Delegations are meant to be reaching a deal that’s in line with capping warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to stop the worst effects of climate change.

UK representative, minister of state for climate change Graham Stuart however has reportedly returned home as crisis talks enter their final hours.

Speaking to ITV News, Francesca Rhodes, Senior Climate and Gender Policy Adviser for CARE International UK, said: “If the reports are accurate, it is staggering that the UK Government has no Ministers attending the final critical days of COP28.

"These negotiations will decide the fate of millions of people facing floods, fires and famine due to the climate crisis.

"The UK has played a productive role in the talks so far but leaving early is simply shameful. Time and again, wealthy countries have let down low-income countries.

"The latest text was deeply disappointing and does not keep 1.5 alive. When the UK should be standing up for marginalised communities, including women and girls, Rishi Sunak’s Government has gone AWOL.”

Moving 'disastrously backward'

Climate activists were keen to weigh in and criticise the deal as not going far enough.

“What we have seen now is our fears come true,” Andreas Sieber, a climate activist with said.

Jean Su from the Centre for Biological Diversity said the text “moves disastrously backward from original language offering a phaseout of fossil fuels."

"If this race-to-the-bottom monstrosity gets enshrined as the final word, this crucial COP will be a failure,” Ms Su said.

The document in detail

The draft document is 21 pages long, but does not feature the words "oil" or "gas". The word "coal" only appeared twice, and there was one mention of carbon capture, which is widely touted as an effective way of tackling high emission levels.

Those opposing the new document said the text was written by the COP28 presidency, which is run by an Emirati oil company's CEO. It fell short of a widespread push to phase out fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal altogether.

Before the summit started, reports suggested the UAE planned to use the fortnight of talks as a business opportunity to make oil and gas deals with other countries - something it has vehemently denied.

The COP presidency, in a statement, responded by say the text was a “huge step forward” and was now “in the hands of the parties, who we trust to do what is best for humanity and the planet.”

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber speaks during a plenary stocktaking session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit. Credit: AP

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber skipped a planned news conference and headed straight into a meeting with delegates just after 6.30pm Dubai time. It was the second time for him to cancel in the day.

“We have a text and we need to agree on the text,” Mr al-Jaber said. “The time for discussion is coming to an end and there’s no time for hesitation. The time to decide is now.”

He added: “We must still close many gaps. We don’t have time to waste.”

The draft highlighted that some $4.3 trillion (£3.4 trillion) needs to be invested annually through 2030 in order to reach targets of net-zero emissions of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere by mid-century.

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