Mary Robinson: fossil fuels must be urgently phased out with world at critical juncture

Global leaders must uphold Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, says Elders chairwoman UN climate talks

Former president of Ireland Mary Robinson has called for a decision in “clear, unambiguous language to urgently phase out all fossil fuels” in her first statement at the Cop28 climate summit.

The world is at a critical juncture, and time is running out to ensure the necessary fossil fuel reductions happen “this decade”, Mrs Robinson said on Friday morning after arriving at the Dubai conference as delegates faced into the difficult final days of the UN climate negotiations.

The chairwoman of the Elders group urged all participants, especially global leaders at Cop28, to work together to uphold the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

Mrs Robinson became embroiled in a controversy as she challenged Cop28 president Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the talks facilitator, in an online exchange before the summit.

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Al-Jaber said that there was “no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 degrees”, remarks that were strongly rejected by many scientists.

Mrs Robinson did not refer to the row after her arrival at the summit venue, where more than 100 countries, including Ireland and the other EU member states, are pushing for the phase-out of fossil fuels.

But she underlined that the Cop28 president and all parties must pull together a rapid response plan to the global stocktake – a task requiring “trust, collaboration, courage and resolve”.

The stocktake is a two-year review of how countries are falling short in implementing climate actions, which requires parties to set out in Cop28 how gaps will be addressed on a global basis.

She emphatically rejected the use of terms such as “unabated” or “abated” in the final text, with the latter referring to carbon removal technologies, which are unproven at scale, costly and opposed by most climate and environmental NGOs.

Mrs Robinson warned that using such terms may result in prolonged debates over the next five years, which would divert attention away from the urgent fossil fuel reductions needed before 2030.

“At this critical juncture, I stand united with leaders from business and industry, young people, mayors, governors, faith leaders, and others urging countries to collaborate in order to uphold the threshold established by the Paris Agreement: the critical 1.5 degree limit,” she said.

“The Cop28 outcome must deliver the adoption of clear, ambitious language to urgently phase out all fossil fuels.”

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times