With the COP28 climate talks entering crunch time, U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell urged countries to come together to reach a final deal for the summit that will keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. “It’s essential that the last day of negotiations results in a strong package of measures to deliver on the Paris Agreement,” Stiell said, as reported by Reuters. This means setting targets and timelines to end unabated fossil fuel use, supported by plans and policies that ensure a just transition for affected workers and communities. It also means committing to accelerate the clean energy transition, with wealthier countries taking the lead by boosting their investments and providing finance to help developing economies leapfrog to a greener future.
But the COP28 summit faces challenging issues, including whether to call for an end to fossil fuels. While many countries want to move on, others say phasing out fossil fuels will only be feasible for a few decades. The debate over whether the conference should include a specific target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has emerged as one of the most divisive issues at the meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
On Monday, a key group led by the E.U. and Pacific island nations met to discuss a proposed text for a global deal. They will try to strengthen the Glasgow pact language by expanding it from singling out coal for a phase-down to all fossil fuels, including oil and gas, says longtime climate negotiator Alden Meyer of the environmental group E3G. That would break precedent and likely anger Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other oil producers.
But many countries – especially those that have historically emitted the least carbon dioxide and are suffering from its consequences – argue that fossil fuels must be phased out as soon as possible to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is the basis for the “justice and equity” argument, which is gaining currency at the COP.
The issue is also complicated because many people depend on fossil fuels for their livelihoods. For example, farmers who rely on livestock or crop cultivation in the Global South heavily depend on methane emissions from cows and other animals. There is also a concern that calls to ban fossil fuels are regressive, with those countries most impacted by climate damage viewed as hypocrites for continuing to consume carbon-intensive products while advocating for an end to the industry.
The debate will take little work, but negotiators hope to bridge some differences before the final text is agreed upon later today. Singapore’s Environment Minister Grace Fu, who is part of the ministerial pairs helping the Emirati hosts close a deal, said there has been progress in resolving some disagreements over the last day. But she emphasized that it’s important to remember that “each step back from the highest ambition will cost countless millions of lives.” The COP28 summit runs through Dec. 10.