New COP28 text ‘calls on’ countries to make transition from fossil fuels

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Countries are being “called upon” to transition away from fossil fuels to reach net zero emissions globally by 2050, under the latest revised text from the UN climate summit in Dubai.

The previous draft document caused outrage among European, Latin American and vulnerable island states after it dropped all references to phasing out fossil fuels and offered an “à la carte menu” of options countries “could” take.

The latest text, yet to be agreed at a plenary session of almost 200 nations, does not include the words “phase out”.

Instead it “calls on parties to contribute” to take actions including “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.

The lack of detail on how poorer countries with large debt piles will finance a shift from fossil fuels and adapt their economies to global warming is expected to be a flash point at Wednesday’s plenary session.

The future role of fossil fuel has become the key issue at COP28, which is being hosted in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers. Diplomats said Saudi Arabia and other Opec countries had pushed heavily for a weak agreement.

Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group comprising more than 200 scientists and researchers, told the Financial Times that the new text was “pretty good”, especially in the wake of sustained pressure from oil and gas producers.

But she added that it was “sorely lacking” when it came to financing the shift away from fossil fuels, particularly in poorer countries, arguing: “We won’t get to where we need to without the financing.”

The updated version came after a night of intense consultations between countries and Sultan al-Jaber, president of COP28 and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Jaber held meetings with ministers and diplomats, including US climate envoy John Kerry, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and officials from Samoa, Canada and the EU.

The text also focuses on the phase-down of “unabated” coal power — where emissions generated are not captured — though it offers no timeline. It also highlights a role for “transitional fuels”, which is likely to be highly contentious as some countries and climate experts argue it supports continued use of gas.

The text also calls for a tripling of global renewable energy capacity by 2030 and for countries to accelerate the development of low-emissions technologies including nuclear, low-carbon hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage.

Environmental group WWF said the new text was a “sorely needed” improvement “but still falls short of calling for the full phaseout of coal, oil and gas”.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the text sent a “strong signal” to world leaders that a “sharp turn away from fossil fuels in this critical decade and beyond” was essential to limiting the rise in global temperature to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Jake Schmidt of climate advocacy group NRDC said: “It puts the fossil fuel industry formally on notice that its old business model is expiring.”

The new draft also emphasises that countries should have different levels of responsibility in tackling climate change, depending on their economic circumstances, and recognises that developing countries need financial support for their energy transitions.

Some developing countries argue that wealthier countries — which are the largest historical emitters of greenhouse gases — must cut their emissions fastest. Some developing countries have criticised the watering down of language on financing, in a separate text aimed at setting a “global goal on adaptation”.

Previous iterations of the text requested that developed countries provide long-term, additional financing and technology for developing countries. The latest text released on Wednesday “reiterates that continuous and enhanced international support . . . is urgently required”.

Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid, said: “In line with US strategy then, explicit reference to developed countries being the ones to provide finance is gone.”

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