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NEWS

New COP28 draft deal stops short of fossil fuel ‘phase out’

By Kate Abnett, Gloria Dickie and David Stanway

DUBAI (Reuters) -A draft of a potential climate deal at the COP28 summit on Monday suggested a range of options that countries could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but omitted the “phase out” of fossil fuels many nations have demanded.

The draft will set the stage for a final round of contentious negotiations in the two-week summit in Dubai, which has laid bare deep international divisions over whether oil, gas and coal should have a place in a climate-friendly future.

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber urged the nearly 200 countries at the talks to redouble their efforts to finalize a deal ahead of the scheduled close of the conference on Tuesday, saying they “still have a lot to do”.

“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,” he said.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said earlier in the day a central benchmark of success for COP28 would be whether it yielded a deal to phase out fossil fuels fast enough to avert disastrous climate change.

The new draft of a COP28 agreement, published by the United Arab Emirates’ presidency of the summit, proposed various options but did not refer to a “phase out” of all fossil fuels, which had been included in a previous draft.

Instead it listed eight options that countries “could” use to cut 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”.

Other actions listed included tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030, “rapidly phasing down unabated coal” and scaling up technologies including those to capture CO2 emissions to keep them from the atmosphere.

One European diplomat told Reuters the new text was “weak as shit” and read like a “menu where you can pick and choose your dish at will”.

Representatives from Pacific island nations Samoa and the Marshall Islands, already suffering the impacts of rising seas, said the draft was a death warrant.

“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,” said John Silk, the head of the Marshall Islands delegation.

A coalition of more than 100 countries including oil and gas producers the United States, Canada and Norway, as well as the European Union and climate-vulnerable island nations, wanted an agreement that included language to phase out fossil fuels, a feat not achieved in 30 years of the U.N. summits.

The emissions from burning fossil fuels are by far the main driver of climate change.

Sources familiar with the discussions said the UAE had come under pressure from Saudi Arabia, de facto leader of the OPEC oil producers’ group of which UAE is a member, to drop any mention of fossil fuels from the text.

Saudi Arabia’s government did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told Reuters a deal on phasing out fossil fuels was being opposed by OPEC.

“We’re the fourth largest oil and gas producer. We get it. It’s complicated. It’s unnerving. It creates uncertainty in parts of our country. But it’s not a reason not to do it,” Guilbeault said.

Other country representatives and observers had a more positive take on the text.

“This text lays the ground for transformational change,” said Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa. “It’s good to recognise this is the first COP where the word fossil fuels are actually included in the draft decision. This is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.”

Brazilian climate negotiator Ana Toni said: “This is an attempt to include the perspectives of all, and not to exclude anyone.”

CONSENSUS NEEDED FOR ANY DEAL

For oil-producing nations, a global deal at COP28 to ditch fossil fuels – even without a firm end date – could signal a political willingness from other nations to slash their use of the lucrative products on which fuel-producing economies rely.

Speaking in a gathering of ministers and negotiators on Sunday, a representative for Saudi Arabia’s delegation said a COP28 deal should not pick and choose energy sources, but should instead focus on cutting emissions.

That position echoes a call made by OPEC in a letter to its members earlier in the COP28 summit, seen by Reuters, which asked them to oppose any language targeting fossil fuels directly.

Deals at U.N. climate summits must be passed by consensus among the nearly 200 countries present. That high bar aims to establish a consensus on the world’s next steps to tackle climate change, which individual countries should then make happen through their national policies and investments.

Developing nations have said any COP28 deal to overhaul the world’s energy system must be matched with sufficient financial support to help them do this.

“We need support as developing countries and economies for a just transition,” said Colombia’s Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said. Colombia supports a COP28 deal to phase out fossil fuels.

“But the first step is the COP, because we should send here the strong political message that this is the pathway,” she told a press conference.

Despite the rapid growth of renewable energy, fossil fuels still produce around 80% of the world’s energy.

Negotiators told Reuters that other OPEC and OPEC+ members including Russia, Iraq and Iran, have also resisted attempts to insert a fossil fuel phase-out into the COP28 deal.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett, Valerie Volcovivi, David Stanway, Sarah McFarlane, Maha el Dahan, Elizabeth Piper and Gloria Dickie; Editing by Katy Daigle, Sonali Paul, Timothy Heritage, Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

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