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DUBAI: Environmental activists stage a protest with a earth globe during a demonstration at the venue of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 6, 2023. -- AFP
DUBAI: Environmental activists stage a protest with a earth globe during a demonstration at the venue of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 6, 2023. -- AFP
UN slams COP28 ‘posturing’ as fossil fuel debate sizzles
Pressure is mounting as UN negotiations near end

DUBAI: UN climate chief Simon Stiell on Wednesday accused nations of “posturing” at the COP28 talks in Dubai, raising the temperature on negotiators sparring over the thorny issue of fossil fuels. Pressure is mounting near the end of the first week of the UN negotiations hosted by the UAE, with Europe’s climate monitor confirming that 2023 will be the hottest year in recorded history.

The European Union called for COP28 to “mark the beginning of the end” of planet-warming fossil fuels. The latest draft of a global climate agreement is “probably” expected on Wednesday before it is finalized—in theory—on December 12, according to two people familiar with the negotiations, but a definitive timeline remains unclear.

The fate of oil, gas and coal—the main drivers of human-caused planet heating—has been the biggest sticking point on the agenda, and divisions around their future have dominated the conference.

“We have a starting text on the table, but it’s a grab bag of ... wish lists and heavy on posturing,” Stiell said. “At the end of next week, we need COP to deliver a bullet train to speed up climate action. We currently have an old caboose chugging over rickety tracks,” he told reporters.

Battle lines have previously been drawn on whether to agree to “phase out” or “phase down” fossil fuels. However the latest text includes a new phrase calling for an “orderly and just” phase-out.

Simon Stiell
Simon Stiell

The language could signal a consensus candidate as it would give countries different timelines to cut emissions depending on their level of development and reliance on fossil fuels. But there is another option: no mention at all of fossil fuels, which reflects opposition from nations including Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, according to several observers who attended the closed meetings.

India on Tuesday evening opposed naming specific sectors or energy sources, one observer said.

One person familiar with the talks said the word “orderly” came from COP28 president Sultan Al-Jaber, who also heads UAE national oil company ADNOC. Another observer said China agrees with the language.

Europe has called for a harder line

“I want this COP to mark the beginning of the end for fossil fuels,” European climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra said on Wednesday. “All 27 European member states want this to be part of the negotiated outcome,” he added. Germany’s climate envoy Jennifer Morgan told AFP that “it is necessary that every party move away from their red lines (and) into solutions”.

“We need to roll up our sleeves and get it done,” she added. Saudi Arabia’s position has come under heavy scrutiny after the world’s biggest oil exporter ruled out agreeing to even phase down fossil fuels.

The kingdom’s chief climate negotiator Khalid Almehaid said Tuesday that the 2015 Paris Agreement was a “great success for all of us”. “The challenge that we have today is how can we keep that train with all of its passengers,” he added.

The Alliance of Small Islands States, which includes some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, called for “major emitters to enhance their commitments,” including towards a fossil fuels phase-out. The new draft of the negotiated text expected on Wednesday must be brought to a large plenary meeting taking stock of the first week of talks ahead of a rest day on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said on Wednesday that 2023 will be the hottest on record after November became the sixth record-breaking month in a row. Last month smashed the previous November heat record, pushing 2023’s global average temperature to 1.46C warmer than the pre-industrial era, the service said. There had been previous warnings this year could take the title of hottest year from 2016 -- particularly after records toppled in September and October—but this marks the first time it has been confirmed.

November also contained two days that were 2C warmer than pre-industrial levels. Not one such day had ever before been recorded. Copernicus head Carlo Buontempo said that “as long as greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising we can’t expect different outcomes”. “The temperature will keep rising and so will the impacts of heatwaves and droughts.” — AFP

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