The proposed final draft of the COP28 climate conference is pretty much exactly what any informed observer might have predicted when the decision was made for Dubai to host the event and Sultan Al Jaber was selected to be its president. Al Jaber is the chief executive of ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Although Al Jaber talked a good game, in the end it was same old same old in Dubai.
A draft of the text of a statement made public by COP28 officials on Friday included several options for final language, ranging from a call to phase-out fossil fuels “in line with the best available science,” to no mention at all of the future of oil, gas and coal. The possibilities also included a phase-out of “unabated” fossil fuels, a vague term that suggests that oil, gas and coal could continue to be used as long there was technology to capture and store the resulting carbon emissions. No such technology currently exists at the scale that scientists say is required, the New York Times noted.
The COP28 End Game
Now it is December 11. The conference is supposed to end with rousing speeches and much glad handing, back slapping, ans bonhomie all around as the attendees celebrate a significant step forward in the campaign to limit global heating to 1.5ºC. The final draft was finally trotted out six hours behind schedule.
According to CNN, the proposed final statement calls on countries to take actions to reduce planet-warming pollution, which “could” include reducing the consumption and production of oil, coal and gas. Many climate experts and observers have blasted the draft for its vague language — especially the use of the permissive “could” rather than a mandatory “shall” — and a lack of concrete timelines. Earlier drafts had included several options that called on countries to phase out climate-polluting oil, gas and coal, which observers said was an encouraging sign that this year’s summit agreement would be stronger than previous years.
Climate advocate and former US vice president Al Gore said in a post on X the summit “is now on the verge of complete failure. The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word. It is even worse than many had feared.”
Big Oil Puts Its Thumb On The Scale At COP28
The secretary-general of the oil-producing group OPEC, Haitham Al Ghais, called on members and allies last week to “proactively reject” any language that targeted fossil fuels rather than emissions. That letter, written before the latest draft was posted, noted the previous option for a “fossil fuels phase out” and said it would be “unacceptable that politically motivated campaigns put our people’s prosperity and future at risk.”
The new draft calls for countries to take action to reduce planet warming emissions, with a menu of choices that could include “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 in keeping with the science.” It also includes an option for “tripling renewable energy capacity globally.”
“We have made progress. But we still have a lot to do,” COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber said Monday in a summit session. “You know what remains to be agreed. And you know that I want you to deliver the highest ambition on all items, including on fossil fuel language.”
Monday’s draft came after marathon negotiations and was published more than six hours later than expected. The conference is due to end on Tuesday, but the new draft — which departs substantially from what many nations taking part in the COP28 conference had called for — could prolong one of the most contentious and high stakes conferences in its nearly three decade history.
The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an intergovernmental organization, has already indicated its members will not approve the agreement in its current form and has criticized the negotiations as lacking transparency and inclusivity. “We will not sign our death certificate,” Cedric Schuster, a Samoan politician and chair of AOSIS, said in a statement. “We cannot sign on to text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels.”
A US State Department spokesperson said in a statement the draft “seeks to balance a variety of interests,” but still “needs to be substantially strengthened.”
Lead negotiators for the European Union described the draft as “insufficient.” EU Climate Action Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra told reporters, “I cannot hide the fact from you that the text, as it now stands, is disappointing. There are a couple of good things in there, but overall, it is clearly insufficient and not adequate to addressing the problem we are here to address.”
Hoekstra added that the EU was sticking to its stance, calling for the phase-out of coal, oil and gas, allowing only for fossil fuel use in sectors where renewables are difficult to employ. Heavy industries like steelmaking, for example, can’t use wind and solar power.
Alok Sharma, a British MP and the president of COP26 in Glasgow two years ago, said it’s “difficult to see how this text will help to achieve the deep and rapid cut in emissions we need by 2030. With so many countries backing clear language on fossil fuel phase-out, who does this text actually serve?” Sharma said.
Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, said the latest draft at COP28 was “a significant regression” from previous versions. “Astonishingly, it has dropped explicit language on phasing out fossil fuels, opting instead for a vague commitment to ‘reduce both consumption and production’ by 2050,” he told CNN. “This is a clear indication of the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying power, influencing global policies to favor prolonged fossil fuel use.”
Rachel Cleetus, the policy director and a lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the draft agreement was “extremely disappointing, concerning, and nowhere close to the level of ambition people around the world deserve. This draft comes with a huge qualifier of ‘could’ at the top that makes all the listed actions optional for nations. It has a laundry list of actions filled with glaring loopholes, including a lack of meaningful timelines” she said in a statement.
Some experts were more optimistic. “We are cooking a fossil free meal here in Dubai,” said Mohamed Adow, director of climate think tank Power Shift Africa. “People will argue if it’s the correct recipe, but the main thing is that all the right ingredients are there.”
Russia Blocks Next COP Summit Location
As if to underscore the extent to which politics play a dominant role in these climate talk charades, Russia has blocked most of the countries that are in line to host COP29. Under UN rules, the location of the summit rotates among regions and countries within those regions must agree on the host. Next year it is scheduled to take place in Eastern Europe or the Caucasus — both of which have been battered by war. Russia has blocked nearly every viable candidate in the region, effectively holding next year’s event hostage, according to the New York Times.
The latest impasse came on Friday when Azerbaijan won the blessing of its neighbor and longtime foe, Armenia, to host the summit, only to be blocked by Russia hours later, according to European diplomats. Observers called the inability of nations to select a host for next year a troubling sign for efforts to find global consensus on the far more serious issue of tackling climate change.
“Russia just wants to be a troublemaker on everything in the international setting,” said Jake Schmidt, the senior strategic director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “I can’t ever remember us not being able to find a location for the next meeting.” Julian Popov, Bulgaria’s environment minister, called the situation “absurd. You can’t have a position in which one member can block the entire process.”
If countries cannot agree on a host for 2024, the summit will default to Germany under the rules of the U.N. climate body. “This is a unique situation,” said Alden Meyer, a strategic adviser at E3G, an environmental research group, adding, “It’s amazing we can make any progress on climate.”
What is really amazing is that the world continues to look upon these annual events as vital to the effort to keep the Earth habitable for humans and other species. They are not. They are political theater that is reminiscent of the scenes in the Peanuts cartoon when Lucy always pulls the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second. We continuously hold out hope that this time Charlie Brown will get to kick the football, but he never does.
The only logical conclusion is that people will keep doing what they have always done until one day they look around and notice all the other people are gone, along with the birds, whales, fish, and other creatures who could not survive on a hotter planet. By then, of course, it will be too late.