COP28 Clashes Over Fossil Fuel Divestment After OPEC Pushback

  • Some members oppose the phasing out of fossil fuels
  • Saudi Arabia and Russia focus on emissions rather than fuel
  • Countries most affected by climate change are demanding its inclusion

DUBAI, Dec 9 (Reuters) – Countries clashed on Saturday over a possible deal to phase out fossil fuels at the COP28 summit in Dubai, undermining efforts to deliver the first pledge to end oil and gas use in 30 years. Global warming talks.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are among several countries insisting that the conference in Dubai focus only on reducing climate pollution — not on targeting fossil fuels, according to observers at the talks.

On the other hand, at least 80 countries, including the United States, the European Union and many poor, climate-vulnerable countries, are calling for the COP28 agreement to eventually end fossil fuel use.

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber late Saturday told countries to speed up work to find a final agreement, saying “there are more differences than an agreement.”

“The window is closing to close the gaps,” he said at the summit.

OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Qaiz said in remarks read by an official to delegates at the summit earlier: “We need realistic approaches to tackle emissions. Enable economic growth, help eradicate poverty and at the same time increase resilience.”

Earlier this week, the group of oil producers sent a letter urging its members and allies to reject any mention of fossil fuels at the final summit, warning that “unnecessary and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels could reach a tipping point”.

According to Alden Meyer of the E3G climate change think tank, OPEC’s secretariat, the UN. This is the first time such a letter has intervened in climate negotiations. “It indicates a panic,” he said.

EU Climate Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra criticized the letter as “out of whack” by climate initiatives.

“By many, including myself, this is misguided, unhelpful, and out of step with where the world stands in terms of our very dramatic climate,” he said.

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Saudi Arabia is the top producer in OPEC and the de facto leader of the organization and Russia is a member of the so-called OPEC+ group.

By insisting on focusing on emissions rather than fossil fuels, both countries are leaning on the promise of expensive carbon capture technology, which the UN Climate Science Panel says will not reduce global fossil fuel use.

Other countries, including India and China, have not explicitly agreed to cut fossil fuels at COP28, but have supported the popular call to increase renewable energy.

China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhue, described this year’s climate summit as the hardest of his life.

“I have participated in these climate negotiations for 16 years,” he told reporters. “The toughest meeting is this year. There are many problems to be solved.”

If countries cannot agree on language on the future of fossil fuels, the summit has little chance of success, he said.

India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav called for “balance and justice” in any deal, demanding that rich countries take the lead on global climate action.

Broader diplomatic grievances were also aired on the stage Saturday, clouding the focus on global warming.

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

Meanwhile, China complained that talk about Taiwan’s participation in the talks was unacceptable. And a Palestinian representative condemned Israel’s war in Gaza, saying the conflict was making it difficult to focus on climate change efforts.

‘critical state’

With the summit set to conclude on Tuesday, government ministers from nearly 200 countries are joining forces at a Dubai summit to address the fossil fuel deadlock.

Climate-vulnerable countries say rejecting fossil fuel reference at COP28 could threaten entire world

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“The prosperity and future of all people on Earth, including all citizens of OPEC countries, cannot be put at greater risk than fossil fuels,” Marshall Islands climate ambassador Tina Stege said in a statement.

The Marshall Islands, which faces flooding from climate-driven sea-level rise, is now at the head of a highly ambitious coalition of countries pushing for stronger emissions reduction targets and policies.

To meet the global goal of keeping climate warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial temperatures, the coalition is “pushing for a phase-out of the fossil fuels that are at the root of this crisis,” he said. “1.5 is not negotiable, it means an end to fossil fuels.”

The latest version of the negotiating text, released Friday, shows countries are still considering several options — “phasing out fossil fuels in line with the best available science,” not to mention phasing out “unsustainable fossil fuels.”

Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate ambassador, said the counties were “moving to a critical stage of negotiations”.

“It’s time to remember that all nations are at risk,” he said. “I worry that not everyone is creatively engaged.”

Asked about the OPEC letter, COP28 director-general Majid al-Suwaidi avoided the term “fossil fuels” but said the summit’s leader, the United Arab Emirates, wanted an agreement to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5 C.

“Our COP president … wants to see a decision as ambitious as possible, and we believe we are going to deliver that,” he told a news conference.

Samoa’s Environment Minister Cedric Shuster, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, expressed concern that this year’s talks would be bogged down by disputes.

“We are very concerned about the pace of negotiations given the limited time we have left in Dubai,” he told the summit from the main stage on Saturday.

“A target for renewables cannot be a substitute for a strong commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and ending fossil fuel subsidies,” he said. “COP28 should deliver both.”

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Azerbaijan has avoided next year’s COP29 climate change summit after winning the support of other Eastern European countries, averting a geopolitical deadlock over the next global meeting to address climate change.

For detailed daily coverage of COP28 delivered to your inbox, sign up to the Reuters Sustainable Switch newsletter here.

Reporting by Kate Abnett, Valerie Volcovici, Yousef Saba, David Stanway, Simon Jessop, Elizabeth Piper and William James; Editing by Katie Daigle, William Mallard, David Evans and Mike Harrison

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Kate Abnett covers EU climate and energy policy in Brussels, reporting on Europe’s green transition and how climate change affects people and ecosystems across the EU. Other areas of coverage include international climate diplomacy. Prior to joining Reuters, Kate covered emissions and energy markets for Argus Media in London. He is part of the team for a report on Europe’s energy crisis that won two Reuters Journalist Awards in 2022.

Valerie Wolkovici covers US climate and energy policy from Washington, DC. He focuses on climate and environmental regulations in federal agencies and Congress and how the energy transition is changing in the United States. Other areas of coverage include his award-winning articles on plastic pollution and global climate diplomacy and the ins and outs of United Nations climate negotiations.

Youssef covers Middle East energy from Dubai, keeping a close eye on Gulf state oil companies, their role in the ambitious region’s transformation plans and transition to green energy. He previously covered Gulf financial and economic news, focusing on emerging capital markets there. He joined Reuters in Cairo in 2018, where he covered Egypt and Sudan, including its rise. He was previously an intern at a local newspaper in Cairo and Politico in DC during the 2016 US presidential election. Contact: +971562166204

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