Cop28: Special meeting aims for breakthrough accord on fossil fuel

Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber says time ‘to shift gears’ amid discord over phasing out of fuels such as coal

The Cop28 president has held a special meeting of all ministers at the UN climate talks in an effort to secure a breakthrough deal on fossil fuels, which potentially could be a global first for the UN’s climate talks.

Having taken the temperature in the main negotiation room on Sunday, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber is due to produce a proposed decision overnight, when it is likely to become clear if such an ambitious outcome is realisable for the talks due to conclude on Tuesday.

The “time has come for us to shift gears”, he said at a press briefing, before holding a “majlis” – an Arabic convention – to try to break the deadlock.

Chair of the Elders Mary Robinson met Sultan Al-Jaber on Saturday. Speaking to The Irish Times, she declined to comment on her contentious pre-Cop28 exchange with him, but said: “We both agreed that it was a robust conversation and I said ‘and happily, it has put science right at the top of the agenda’, and he agreed.”


Mrs Robinson was upbeat on other aspects of the meeting: “I told him we need to see a full fossil fuel phase-out… he said ‘judge me by the results’, and he did say, ‘the doubters will be surprised’. Now we need countries to work to get this done.”

Disagreement over moves to phase out fossil fuel, however, surfaced throughout the day. It is a key demand of most countries, including the US and EU, with indications Saudi Arabia is leading petrostates opposing the move.

“We need to find consensus and common ground on fossil fuels, including coal,” Sultan Al-Jaber said. “We need to also come to terms with the sources of finance and support.”

The session moved all ministers into one room to increase the transparency of their positions and allow them to hash out their remaining differences over several hours.

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan told the gathering there was an opportunity to break down divisions “between north and south, and east and west” at a time of global conflict when climate impacts are hitting home, with rampant debt-default and increased malnutrition.

It was no small task to change global financial architecture as envisaged, but a series of steps had already been taken, he said. “We won’t sign on all of it at Cop28; we just need to give the political signal,” he said.

That meant moving to provide $4 trillion (€3.7 trillion) for “the clean energy alternative”, and $1.5 trillion for developing countries, he said.

The Cop needed to go further by combining public and private finance to help de-risk investment in the developing world – backed by innovative sources of finance, Mr Ryan said.

There is particular concern the decision will refer to “unabated fossil fuels” promoted by the fossil fuel industry, as this could allow continued production deploying carbon-capture technology.

“The myth of ‘abated fossil fuels’ is nothing more than greenwashing. No amount of carbon capture or offsets can make fossil fuels climate-friendly,” said Nikki Reisch of the Centre for International Environmental Law.

Germany’s climate envoy, Jennifer Morgan, said: “There is a real urgency of action to keep the planetary pain threshold of 1.5 degrees in reach… This means there needs to be strong language on the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

But it was clear that the least-developed countries would not be able to go at the same speed as “G20 economic powerhouses”, she said. “They have to meet development needs but also have the opportunity now to leapfrog unsustainable decisions. This is why we need a package that combines energy transition and energy access.”

She said: “The question is: can we rise to the occasion and bring up the balance of the package to enable acceleration across the board? Or will we allow a small group of actors to tear down the chance of a historic decision that would give our businesses and our markets clarity about the long-term direction of travel?”

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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