World to reckon with future of fossil fuels at COP28 climate summit By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Climate activists disguised as CEOs of major oil companies take part in a fake banquet celebrating profits, in call on states taking part in COP28 climate conference to finance loss and damage fund by taxing fossil fuel profits, near the Eiffe

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By Valerie Volcovici, Kate Abnett and Maha El Dahan

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS/DUBAI (Reuters) -Delegates from nearly 200 countries will convene this week for the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, where conference host and OPEC member the UAE hopes to sell the vision of a low-carbon future that includes, not shuns, fossil fuels.

That narrative, also backed by other big oil producer nations, will throw the spotlight on international divisions at the summit over the best way to combat global warming: countries are split over whether to prioritize phasing out coal and oil and gas, or scale up technologies like carbon capture to scrub away their climate impact.

The annual United Nations summit from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 is taking place as the world is poised to shatter another record for the hottest year in 2023, and as new reports confirm countries’ current climate pledges are not enough to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

Among the key decisions nations must make in Dubai – a gleaming high-tech city in a country awash in petrodollars – will be whether to agree, for the first time, to gradually “phase out” global consumption of fossil fuels and replace them with sources like solar, wind and others.

Underscoring the rift, the International Energy Agency, the West’s energy watchdog, issued a report ahead of the conference defining its position. It called the idea of widespread carbon capture an “illusion”, and said the fossil fuel industry must decide between deepening the climate crisis or shifting to clean energy.

That report triggered an angry response from OPEC, which accused the IEA of vilifying oil producers.

“This presents an extremely narrow framing of the challenges before us, and perhaps expediently plays down such issues as energy security, energy access and energy affordability,” OPEC said in a statement.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are the biggest cause of climate change. 

All eyes will be on the COP’s incoming president, Sultan al-Jaber, whose day job as CEO of the UAE’s national oil company ADNOC has led to questions of whether he can be an honest broker of a climate deal.

Those concerns were further stoked on Monday after the BBC published a report based on leaked documents that said Jaber planned to discuss potential gas and other commercial deals with over a dozen governments ahead of the summit.

A COP28 spokesperson told Reuters the documents were “inaccurate”.

“We have a world which has more fossil fuels than ever,” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, a climate NGO. “What we should be looking for is a commitment to actually reduce fossil fuels.”

Jaber has said the phase-down of fossil fuels is “inevitable”, but also argues the oil industry must be involved in the fight against climate change. He has been rallying support from companies for COP28 pledges aimed at reducing emissions from oil and gas operations.

“I will hold every country and every company and every stakeholder accountable for keeping 1.5°C within reach,” Jaber told a press conference on Wednesday, referring to the goal to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This year’s gathering of 70,000 registered attendees will have more of a trade show feel than previous COPs, with organizers expecting a record 70,000 people – including the biggest participation from businesses for any U.N. climate summit yet.

High profile figures like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Britain’s King Charles are set to attend, though U.S. President Joe Biden will not.

TAKING STOCK

A big job for countries at COP28 will be to assess how far off track they are from the 1.5 C goal.

This process, known as the “global stocktake”, should yield a high-level plan telling countries what to do to achieve that goal. It will then be up to governments to turn that global plan into national policies and targets, which they will have to submit to the U.N. in 2025.

Leading up to the conference, the European Union, U.S. and UAE have rallied support for a deal to triple global renewable energy installed by 2030. Over 100 countries have backed this deal, officials told Reuters, but countries including China and India are not yet fully on board.

U.S. officials and others are hopeful a between the U.S. and China may also set a positive tone for the talks. In that deal, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters agreed to boost renewable energy and “accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation.”

Though that deal did not include a “phase down” of coal, a senior U.S. official said to expect a new linguistic “concoction” to capture this goal. The U.S.-China deal had called for the two to “accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation” that would lead to “meaningful” power sector emission reductions.

CLIMATE FINANCE

Another key task for the conference is to launch a world-first climate damage fund, dedicated to helping countries that have already suffered irreparable damage from climate change impacts like drought, floods and rising sea levels.

Representatives from developed and developing countries have struck a tentative agreement on its design. All countries will review that deal and some could raise objections. That deal is not final until countries at COP28 approve it.

Gayane Gabrielyan, Armenia’s negotiator on the fund, told Reuters it is crucial the “loss and damage” fund agreement is approved now, ahead of elections next year in countries such as the U.S. that could shatter the political consensus.

Another test is whether wealthy nations announce money for the fund at COP28 – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The EU and U.S. have already said they will contribute and are pressuring countries like China and the UAE to follow.

“Speaking from previous experience, unfortunately most of the global agreements, most of the global climate related pledges went uncompleted,” said Najib Ahmed, National Consultant at Somalia’s Climate Ministry.

“But again, we cannot lose hope.”

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