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COP28 draft sparks criticism over fossil fuels

A new draft of the fundamental agreement at the COP28 climate summit, published on Monday, has drawn criticism for omitting the mention of phasing out fossil fuels, a key factor in the climate crisis. The removal of the call to abandon fossil fuels appears to be a concession to oil-producing nations opposing the measure, CNN reported.

The latest draft urges countries to take action to diminish planet-warming pollution, potentially encompassing reductions in the consumption and production of oil, coal, and gas. Critics have decried the draft for its vague language and absence of concrete timelines.

Over 100 nations initially supported language advocating for the phase-out of fossil fuels, but this latest draft may face opposition during an upcoming plenary session. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, which opposed any reference to fossil fuels, may push for further dilution of the text.

If the current draft fails to garner widespread support, negotiators may need to resume discussions. Earlier drafts included options calling for the phasing out of climate-polluting oil, gas, and coal, raising hopes for a stronger summit agreement than in previous years.

Climate advocate and former US Vice President Al Gore said in a post on X the summit "is now on the verge of complete failure."

Controversy has surrounded the summit, particularly after the United Arab Emirates selected Sultan Al Jaber, the head of its state-owned oil company and lead climate delegate, to lead the talks. Recent comments from Al Jaber, disputing the scientific basis for phasing out fossil fuels, further intensified tensions.

In late November, Al Jaber claimed there was "no science" supporting the need to phase out fossil fuels to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Paris Agreement's goal. Despite subsequent defences of his commitment to climate science, the controversy cast a shadow over the summit.

"The COP28 Presidency has been clear from the beginning about our ambitions," a COP28 spokesperson said in a statement after Monday's draft was released, adding, "This text reflects those ambitions and is a huge step forward. Now it is in the hands of the Parties, who we trust to do what is best for humanity and the planet."

The latest draft calls for countries to act on reducing planet-warming emissions, offering a range of options that may include "reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net zero by, before, or around 2050 in keeping with the science." Another option involves "tripling renewable energy capacity globally."

The draft's publication, delayed by over six hours after marathon negotiations, adds uncertainty to the conference scheduled to conclude on Tuesday. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has already signalled its members' disapproval of the agreement in its current form, criticizing the negotiations for a lack of transparency and inclusivity.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an intergovernmental organisation, has already specified its members will not support the agreement in its current form and has disapproved the negotiations as lacking transparency and inclusivity.

"We will not sign our death certificate. We cannot sign on to text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels," said Cedric Schuster, a Samoan politician and chair of AOSIS, in a statement.

The US State Department acknowledged the draft's attempt to balance various interests but emphasised the need for substantial strengthening.

Meanwhile, European Union lead negotiators labelled the draft as "insufficient," with EU Climate Action Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra stating it falls short of adequately addressing the climate problem.

"I cannot hide the fact from you that the text, as it now stands, is disappointing," EU Climate Action Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra told reporters.

"There are a couple of good things in there, but overall, it is clearly insufficient and not adequate to addressing the problem we are here to address."

Hoekstra reiterated the EU's stance, advocating for the phased-out use of coal, oil, and gas, permitting fossil fuel use only in sectors where renewables are impractical.

British MP, Alok Sharma, the president of COP26 two years ago, expressed doubts about the text's ability to achieve necessary emissions reductions by 2030, questioning whom the text truly serves amidst widespread support for clear language on fossil fuel phase-out.

Head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, Harjeet Singh, said that latest draft was "a significant regression" from previous versions.

"Astonishingly, it has dropped explicit language on phasing out fossil fuels, opting instead for a vague commitment to 'reduce both consumption and production' by 2050," he told CNN, adding, "This is a clear indication of the fossil fuel industry's lobbying power, influencing global policies to favor prolonged fossil fuel use."

Director of Climate Trends, Aarti Khosla, said, "Even as the clock ticks and any success would only be possible with a massive lift, this text is one of convenience for all parties. It is diplomatic-speak and not science-speak."

"It's a Himalayan blunder to not give the same urgency to oil and gas, which it offers to coal. Rapidly phasing down unabated coal won't change the world's climate. Unstoppable oil and gas emissions needed to stop - and conducted in a petro state as it is, this text gives no confidence in lifting the climate's sinking ship by only targeting draw down of coal," she added.


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