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COP28 climate meeting: The fossil fuel question

  • Published
    5th Dec, 2023

Oil, gas, coal, and their derivatives account for at least 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, COPs over the years have not even acknowledged the role of fossil fuels in global warming.


COP 28 and Fossil Fuel:

The annual climate change conferences have historically sidestepped the crucial issue of fossil fuels' role in global warming. However, the on-going COP28 in Dubai is witnessing a potential shift, sparked by controversial remarks from Sultan Al Jaber, the conference's presiding figure.

The Furore in COP 28:

  • Fossil Fuel controversy: Al Jaber's comments during an online event, where he downplayed the necessity of eliminating fossil fuels to achieve the 1.5-degree Celsius target, have triggered a significant controversy.
  • Conflict of Interest: As the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the world's 12th largest oil company, Al Jaber's role as COP28 president has drawn criticism for potential conflicts of interest.

The Fossil Fuel Debate:

  • GHG emissions: Fossil fuels, responsible for at least 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, have been a contentious topic in climate negotiations.
  • Core Issues: Despite their significant contribution to climate change, influential countries have attempted to reduce emissions without addressing the core issue of fossil fuel usage.

The Indian Initiative:

  • Phase-out of fossil fuels: India took a bold step during COP27, calling for a phase-out of fossil fuels in the final conference outcome.
  • Phase-down of coal: While the mention was vague, urging the acceleration of a "phase-down" of unabated coal, it marked the first official acknowledgment of any fossil fuel in COP decisions.
    • The terms "phase-out" and "phase-down" remain subject to negotiation and contention.

The Sensitive Players:

  • Avoiding Discussions: Powerful nations like the US, EU, China, India, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, which are major producers or consumers of fossil fuels, have traditionally avoided explicit discussions on phasing out these resources.
  • Broader Perspectives: They preferred framing climate objectives in broader terms like emission reductions and temperature targets.

COP28's Turning Point:

  • Fossil fuel phase-out: Sultan Al Jaber's invitation for countries to submit proposals on fossil fuel phase-out suggests a potential breakthrough at COP28.
  • Intense negotiations: While the conference's final decisions may include a mention of the need to phase down fossil fuels—a groundbreaking development after three decades—the specifics and schedules are likely to face intense negotiations.

Way Forward:

  • The unfolding events at COP28 indicate a paradigm shift in climate negotiations, with fossil fuels finally entering the spotlight.
  • The pressure to address this long-ignored elephant in the room is mounting, driven by the urgent need to meet 2030 targets.
  • As discussions progress, the world waits to see whether COP28 will pave the way for concrete actions towards reducing dependence on fossil fuels and combating climate change.
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