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Updated Dec 11, 2023, 9:11am EST
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New COP28 draft deal does not mention fossil fuel phase-out

United Arab Emirates Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during a press conference at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 10, 2023. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
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The text of the latest draft deal published by the U.N.’s climate body does not refer to the phase-out of fossil fuels, a hotly-debated issue at this year’s COP28 conference.

The new draft version of the summit’s final agreement removes any reference to either a “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuels, instead “calling upon” countries to “reduce both consumption and production of fossil fuels.”

Saudi Arabia had led calls this weekend for OPEC members to reject a COP28 deal that called for the phasing out of fossil fuels, threatening to derail attempts to reach an agreement at the U.N.’s annual climate summit.

The cartel insisted that any deals on fossil-fuel use focus on reducing emissions, rather than phasing out oil and gas. Direct conversations about the role of fossil-fuels in accelerating the climate crisis are a more recent feature of COP meetings, and a communiqué from the event which addresses their role in global heating would be historic.

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COP28’s most high-profile decision — whether to call for a phaseout of fossil fuels — may be decided, and not in the way many delegates were hoping to see, Semafor’s climate editor Tim McDonnell wrote. He noted that this was the first draft COP agreement to call for any kind of reduction of fossil fuels; COP27 in Egypt last year only called for the “phase down of unabated coal power.” Still, with 2023 ranking as the warmest year in recorded human history, the draft might deal a death blow to the odds of Sultan al-Jaber being able to frame COP28 in a way that can be broadly accepted as successfully ambitious.

The reaction from OPEC indicates that oil and gas firms are worried about how a phase-out of fossil fuels will impact their bottom line, one climate leader said. “They obviously felt they needed to engage,” Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s special envoy on climate action, told Politico. “Whether it was a bit of panic, whether it was a bit of realization of how far the discussions are. That’s my take.”

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber urged nations participating in the debates to be prepared to compromise. “I told everyone not to come with any prepared statements, and no prescribed positions,” he said Sunday. Al-Jaber, who heads the UAE-owned oil and gas firm ADNOC, reportedly held meetings this weekend to try and finalize an agreement on the language around fossil fuels. Previously, al-Jaber said he was working closely with Saudi Arabia to reach a deal on how nations will manage fossil-fuel phase-out. He has faced criticism for his chairmanship of the conference by many who view his leadership of an oil and gas firm as at odds with COP’s goals.

The countries most vulnerable to climate change are leading a push for urgent action on adapting to the crisis. “Adaptation is a matter of life and death for Africa,” said Collins Nzovu, Zambia’s minister of green economy and environment. Nations are pressing for a framework on how support would be offered to countries that will bear the brunt of climate disasters. Agreeing to these measures has proven difficult, New Scientist noted: “Adaptation might involve everything from improving weather forecasting and strengthening bridges ... to reduce flooding. Such highly local schemes are difficult to capture in global or even national plans.”

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