Cop28 heads into final 72 hours with mounting tensions over fossil fuels phase-out

Failure to agree elimination would push planet ‘into climate breakdown’, summit hears

Countries clashed on Saturday over a proposed agreement to phase out fossil fuels at Cop28 in Dubai, potentially jeopardising attempts to deliver a first commitment in 30 years of global warming talks to end the use of oil and gas.

Observers said Saudi Arabia and Russia were among several countries insisting the UN summit focus only on reducing climate pollution and not on targeting the fossil fuels causing it.

On the other side, at least 100 countries including the US, EU and many poor, climate-vulnerable nations are demanding a decision calling clearly for an eventual end to fossil-fuel use.

“We need realistic approaches to tackle emissions,” said Opec secretary general Haitham Al Ghais in comments read out by an official. “One that enables economic growth, helps eradicate poverty and increases resilience at the same time.”


Opec letter controversy

Earlier this week, the oil-producer group sent a letter urging its members and allies to reject any mention of fossil fuels in the final summit deal, warning that “undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point”.

It was the first time Opec’s secretariat has intervened in the UN climate talks in such a manner, according to Alden Meyer of think tank E3G. “It indicates a whiff of panic,” he said.

Chairwoman of the Elders Mary Robinson said it was an indication “they’re scared” about an outcome supporting phase-out.

Saudi Arabia is the top producer in Opec and de facto leader of the organisation while Russia is a member of the so-called Opec+ group. By insisting on focusing on emissions rather than fossil fuels, the two countries appeared to be leaning on the promise of expensive carbon capture technology, which the UN climate science panel says cannot take the place of reducing fossil fuel use globally. Other countries including India and China have not explicitly endorsed a fossil fuel phase-out.

Hardest Cop

China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, described this year’s climate summit as the hardest in his career. “I have participated in these climate negotiations for 16 years,” he said. “The hardest meeting is this year’s. There are so many issues to settle.”

He said there was little chance the summit would be called a success if nations could not agree to language on the future of fossil fuels.

A Russia representative said in a speech that Moscow was looking into whether some of the roughly $300 billion in gold reserves frozen by the West after Russia invaded Ukraine could be used for a climate damage fund for developing countries.

With the summit scheduled to end on Tuesday, government ministers from nearly 200 countries have joined in trying to resolve the fossil fuel impasse.

“Nothing puts the prosperity and future of all people on earth, including all of the citizens of Opec countries, at greater risk than fossil fuels,” said Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege.

Asked about the Opec letter, Cop28 director general Majid Al Suwaidi avoided the term “fossil fuels” but said the UAE, as president of the summit, wanted a deal to get the world on track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

“Our Cop president ... wants to see an outcome that is as ambitious as possible, and we believe we are going to deliver it,” he said.

Failure to agree on a phase-out of fossil fuels would push the world beyond the crucial 1.5-degree temperature limit and into climate breakdown, the UK’s former climate chief has warned in a piece for the Observer. Alok Sharma, who was president of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, said it was vital that governments made a clear commitment in the next few days to eliminate coal, oil and gas.

Canada has been asked by Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber to help develop language on the potential phase-down or phase-out of fossil fuels, its environment minister Steven Guilbeault has confirmed. He was a key figure who helped negotiate the landmark global agreement at the biodiversity loss Cop in Montreal last year.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan, who is co-leader for the European Union on securing a deal on climate finance, said he had a good meeting with Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber.

“[We spoke] about the need for a commitment by the fossil fuel industry, and the oil and gas companies particularly, to align with the Paris Agreement, starting by cutting methane emissions by 75 per cent,” he added.

Nature-positive day

The European Investment Bank (EIB) and fellow multilateral development banks (MDBs) have published common principles for identifying and tracking nature-positive finance. The announcement came on Nature Day at Cop28 and is predicted to enable nature restoration and nature-based solutions to be applied to climate actions, particularly in developing countries.

The principles aim to increase nature-positive finance by mainstreaming nature in MDB operations and investments in a systematic manner. The banks had already collectively committed to stepping up efforts for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of nature in support of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

EIB vice-president Ambroise Fayolle said: “Scaling up nature-positive finance is key to solving the climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution crises ... we are committed to working with countries and the private sector to scale up nature-positive investments worldwide.”

Speaking at an event in the nature pavilion, Mrs Robinson underlined the link between the climate and biodiversity crises affecting Earth. “It’s not just about cutting emissions, it’s about restoring ecosystems and regenerating food systems.”


Hundreds of delegates marched through the Cop28 to demand climate justice and to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

“Climate justice is a right not just for the rich and white,” sang the crowd as negotiators from more than 190 countries fight over climate finance and access to adaptation measures. In an emotionally charged protest peppered with traditional drumming, smoke ceremonies and dancing.

Some called for an end to violence in Gaza, amid claims that their delegate passes would be withdrawn if they did so.

Indigenous people from the Brazilian Amazon and Guatemalan highlands marched alongside Cameroonian grassroots activists and peasant leaders from Pakistan. It’s the first public protest to take place in the UAE in well over a decade.

Rev Rachel Taber-Hamilton, an Episcopal priest from the US, said: “I’m here today as a delegate from the Episcopal Church. I think it’s the power of the people. The communities need to come together because what we have in common is we’re fed up of all of us being harmed and the dominant culture of economics being very happy to make us victims.”


Azerbaijan looks set to host next year’s Cop29 climate change summit after winning backing from other Eastern European nations, unblocking a geopolitical deadlock over the next global gathering to address climate change. — Additional reporting Reuters

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily - Find the latest episode here
Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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