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Dec 1, 2023, 10:54am EST
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Semafor Signals

Will countries agree to phase out fossil fuels at COP28?

People take pictures during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
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Attendees of the United Nation’s COP28 climate summit are debating whether to phase out or phase down fossil fuels.

Divisions are growing as the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting the event, has signaled that it is not on board with plans to end fossil fuel use.

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The UAE will need to grapple with its role as COP28’s host nation and its desire to keep oil and gas flowing. Whether the oil-rich nation can oversee discussions on fossil fuel phase out promises to be the ”defining question" of the summit, one anti-fossil fuel campaigner says. But reaching any global agreement will likely be challenging given that major oil-producing nations like Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia are opposed to reducing the use of fossil fuels. “I don’t think COP28 will be seen as a success if it doesn’t come to terms with the root cause of climate change,” Romain Ioualalen of Oil Change International told the Financial Times.

Two factors illustrate the “almost uselessness of the COP meetings,” Michael Lynch of Energy Policy Research Foundation writes in Forbes. One is that it took rich nations three decades worth of attempts to pledge more than $400 million to help poorer countries mitigate climate impacts. The second is that irrespective of whether countries decide to “phase out” or “phase down” fossil fuels in the final COP28 report, it will not produce any real impact on the actual emitters of fossil fuels. In fact, Lynch writes, it will only exacerbate the divide between rich and poor countries, with the former taking a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to the issue.

A total phase out of fossil fuels could have extreme consequences for poor oil-producing nations. Rapidly transitioning to green energy may slash government budgets by as much as 40%, a recent report found, unless the international community is able to help manage the transition away from oil and gas. Since some nations are already fragile, losing “such a core source of their revenue would have quite dangerous implications for them domestically,” Guy Prince of the U.K. think tank Carbon Tracker told the New Scientist. The African Group of countries has echoed these concerns: In a meeting Thursday, the group argued that any agreement on fossil fuel phase out should be “just, equitable and taking a differentiated approach.”

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