Dubai, United Arab Emirates—Earlier today at COP28, the United Nations’ climate summit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonion Guterres declared that “a central aspect, in my opinion, of the success of the COP will be for the COP to reach a consensus on the need to phase out fossil fuels in line with a time framework that is in line with the 1.5 degree limits.” In other words, Guterres wants COP28 to impose a global deadline for the elimination of fossil fuels from the world’s energy supplies.
The new proposed text for the Global Stocktake (GST)—the principal document being composed at the conference—may disappoint Guterres. Though the options in the negotiating text all proposed some goal for the “phase out” of fossil fuels as of last Friday, that term is nowhere in the new GST text.
While expressing a desire for deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the GST draft text as it stands now “calls upon Parties to take actions that could include,” among other things, “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.”
This clearly avoids the trigger words “phase out,” but doesn’t it really amount to the same thing? Perhaps not. Because that formulation “could include” suggests that reducing the consumption and production of fossil fuels is just one option among many that signatories may choose to pursue over the next two years.
It is worth noting that this draft text does include the phrase “fossil fuels.” If that remains in the final text, this will be the first time an official COP decision document actually deployed those words. Previously, such documents have coyly focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions without mentioning from whence those pesky emissions might come.
This outcome is entirely unsatisfactory to the longtime climate activist (and former U.S. vice president) Al Gore. “COP28 is now on the verge of complete failure,” he posted on X (formerly Twitter). “The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word. It is even worse than many had feared.”
Gore is not alone in his disappointment. Spain’s environment minister, a co-leader of the European Union’s delegation, said “there are elements in the text that are fully unacceptable.”
Other options in the draft GST text include such measures as “Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.” This is in line with the global pledge signed by nearly 120 countries issued on December 2. Note that China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Russia did not commit to this goal.
Interestingly, the draft text mentions nuclear energy as one of the measures that countries could include in their efforts. So perhaps COP28 is the “nuclear COP” after all.