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If final Cop28 agreement refers to ‘fossil fuel phase-out’, it will be a historic day for the world

There are a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at Cop28, pushing their usual myths

Welcome to this week’s IT Sunday, another Cop28 special edition written by The Irish Times’s Environment and Science Editor Kevin O’Sullivan.

The opening days of Cop28 in Dubai were infused with optimism. A deal on “loss and damage” to support countries already being devastated by severe global warming was got over the line during the opening hours – not the usual pace of UN climate talks.

There were equally up-beat pronouncements about tripling renewable energy by 2030 and even the main antagonists contributing to climate breakdown – big oil producing states – made soothing sounds about eliminating methane (the most insidious greenhouse gas) in their fossil fuel operations by decade end. All of which is likely to go into the final “text decision”.

Sometimes, however, you have to be careful about the hype; not quite greenwashing but action that is not reflecting the scale of the unfolding climate crisis. Some $700 million plus was pledged to the loss and damage – with Ireland being up there with the most generous countries. Then it emerges this covers less than 0.2 per cent of what is needed.


The cheeriness among delegations and their negotiators was rowed in a little after details emerged of chair of the Elders Mary Robinson’s testy exchange with the key figure guiding the negotiations, Cop28 president Sultan Ahmed El Jaber. In short, he said science did not indicate a phase-out of fossil fuels was necessary to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees.

Ms Robinson challenged him on this assertion, while most scientists backed her. In fairness, he has made clear 1.5 degrees is his “North Star” in terms of Cop28 – and, remarkably, he has acknowledged the need for phase-out of fossil fuels ultimately.

The exchange was not a trust breaker, according to Ireland’s Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan, who was close to negotiations all week. We have been here before with big oil states such as UAE resisting curtailment of oil and gas.

But it certainly concentrated minds on difficult talks ahead.

A thorough review on climate action and current realities, known as a global stocktake, in effect makes the case for phase-out to ensure keeping to within 1.5. So that became the main platform for a substantial outcome of Cop28. That is why it has got the endorsement of more than 100 countries though it contains options on phase-out language.

That has been handed over to the Cop28 presidency, which in the political phase of the talks has to refine the document and attempt to build consensus in coming hours.

US climate envoy John Kerry has said repeatedly in Dubai the world needs to “phase out” some fossil fuels, while employing carbon capture methods, to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.

While the EU and US are pushing for some kind of commitment to phase out fossil fuels, China, India and others baulked at the approach. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister told Bloomberg the kingdom wouldn’t agree to phase down language in a final accord.

It’s hard to identify a way forward but willingness to get a substantial deal is undoubtedly present. It was typified in the observation from US climate envoy John Kerry: “We’ve had a pretty damn good week here in Dubai already,” he said. “We have some tough issues next week, but I think we have people of good faith who know that this is an international negotiation of consequence. And people will measure who steps up.”

There are a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at Cop28. They will be pushing their usual myths: that fossil fuels are essential to meet national energy security needs; without more oil and gas we can never meet the world’s growing energy demand; and carbon capture technology will make fossil fuels emission-free.

At many levels there is different circumstances this year which means they won’t hit home the way they have in previous COPs. Moreover UAE wants a decision of substance having pointed repeatedly to their North Star of 1.5 degrees.

Many believe Cop28 will be unsuccessful if the final agreement does not refer to “fossil fuel phase-out”. If those words are in the text in a clearcut way without qualifications, it will be a historic day for the world and a great breakthrough in the interests of humanity. The next 72 hours will determine if it’s realisable.

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