COP28 DeBriefed 8 December: The fight over fossil fuels; Al Jaber defends ‘respect’ for science; Has COP ever finished on time?


Welcome to Carbon Brief’s DeBriefed. 
An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.

This is an online version of Carbon Brief’s weekly DeBriefed email newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

Global stocktake dominates negotiations

SLOW STOCKTAKE: The second week of COP28 starts today, as technical negotiations give way to ministerial talks to iron out politically-sensitive disagreements. That is the theory, at least. In reality, the centrepiece of the summit – the first “global stocktake” of progress towards the Paris Agreement goals – is progressing slowly, the Hindustan Times reported.

TRICKIEST TOPICS: In a Friday morning plenary, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber said technical discussions would continue, alongside work led by ministerial pairs on the trickiest topics. This includes the stocktake and language on fossil fuels, see below – but also adaptation, mitigation and “means of implementation” (access to finance and technology).

TEXT TRACKER: Carbon Brief’s text tracker has the status of every agenda item at COP28. Most week-one talks handed a draft text over to week two. The stocktake text was unfinished and came with a “compilation” of further views – watch for a new draft later today. No text was agreed on adaptation – and several other agenda items were deferred, without agreement, until talks in Bonn in June 2024, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported.

Flurry of fossil-fuel pledges

COAL GOALS: Earlier on in the week saw an avalanche of new fossil-fuel pledges. Nine new countries signed up to the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a large group of nations pledging to phase out “unabated” coal power first founded at COP26 in Glasgow. This included the US, Czech Republic, Kosovo, Cyprus, Norway, the Dominican Republic and Iceland, the Associated Press reported – and later COP28 host UAE and Malta, Edie added. 

BEYOND OIL: Elsewhere, Spain, Kenya and Samoa joined a much smaller group of nations pledging to phase out all fossil fuels, known as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, at an event attended by Carbon Brief. Colombia turned heads by becoming the 10th country to join the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, the Guardian reported.

INDUSTRY CHARTER: In addition, COP28 host UAE and Saudi Arabia launched an “oil and gas decarbonisation charter” signed by 50 fossil-fuel companies, Arab News reported. The group, representing 40% of global production, pledged to end gas flaring by 2030, “zero-out” methane emissions and “align” with net-zero by 2050. However, scientists criticised the initiative for focusing on emissions associated with operations rather than from burning fossil fuels, which account for the majority, the Financial Times said.

Al Jaber under fire

RESURFACED REMARKS: COP28 president and oil executive Al Jaber faced renewed scrutiny this week, after remarks he made regarding the science of phasing out fossil fuels during a live online event in November resurfaced in a story by the Guardian and the Centre for Climate Reporting. On video, Al Jaber said: “There is no science out there – or no scenario out there – that says the phase-out of fossil fuels is going to achieve 1.5C.” The remark sparked fierce backlash from the scientific and political community.

REACTION: A day after the story and the resulting outcry, Al Jaber faced journalists during a highly unusual COP press conference attended by Carbon Brief. Sat at a table flanked by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chair Prof Jim Skea, he told reporters: “We’re here because we very much believe and respect the science…Everything this presidency works on is centred around the science.” 

  • RENEWABLES PLEDGE: As part of the Global Pledge on Renewables and Energy Efficiency, 118 governments pledged to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity by 2030 reported Reuters. China and India did not join, Carbon Brief noted.
  • BAKU BID: Azerbaijan’s bid to host COP29 got a boost after being backed by Armenia following peace talks between the two warring nations, reported state news agency Azartac. However, Carbon Brief understands Russia has vetoed the bid.
  • US FUNDS: The US had pledged $3bn for the UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF), according to Climate Home News. This means the US has pledged more to the GCF than any other country, but the outlet noted that delivering the money will rely on the approval of Congress, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
  • ADAPTATION STALLS: Down to Earth reported that developing countries at COP28 “rejected” the first draft of a new “global goal on adaptation” as it “did not reflect” their priorities – particularly around finance. Reuters noted growing concerns that focus on loss and damage could “threaten” adaptation funds.
  • ‘FORESTS FOREVER’: Brazil unveiled a new “tropical forests forever” fund proposal on Friday, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, France confirmed new forest funding for Papua New Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, Dubai’s Khaleej Times reported.
  • INDIGENOUS ACHIEVEMENT: Brazil’s Indigenous minister Sônia Guajajara made history this week by becoming the first Indigenous head of delegation at a climate COP, Carbon Brief reported.

The number of female heads of state attending COP28 out of a total of 133, according to the NGO CARE International. Just 38% of COP delegates are female.

  • The annual Global Carbon Budget, published in Earth System Science Data and covered by Carbon Brief, found that global fossil-fuel emissions will once more reach record highs in 2023 – a projected 1.1% increase from 2022 levels.
  • The World Meteorological Organization’s decadal climate report said that 2011-20 was a “decade of accelerating climate change” and laid out the “concrete connections” between extreme weather events and slower progress towards ending poverty.
  • The Global Tipping Points report stated that the world is “already at risk of crossing” five tipping points in the Earth system, including both the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets and warm-water coral reefs.

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)

COP27 was the second-longest to date

During a speech on Wednesday night, Al Jaber urged negotiators to “maintain momentum and achieve a punctual finish” to COP28. The talks are scheduled to end on Tuesday 12 December and Al Jaber said he intends to close them by “11am at the latest”. But seasoned COP goers like Al Jaber will know that COPs rarely finish on time. In fact, analysis by Carbon Brief’s Joe Goodman shows that eight of the last 10 climate summits have run over by more than 24 hours, with COP27 being the second-longest summit to date. The last COP to finish near-enough on time was COP12 in Nairobi in 2006.

The fight over fossil fuels

Negotiations at COP28 have entered their crucial second week and the fight over what to say about fossil fuels in the “global stocktake” text is moving out into the open.

Ahead of the talks, 106 countries including the EU and the 79-member Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States backed language on a “global phase-out of unabated fossil fuels”. A separate group of 26 countries called for “a global phase-out of fossil fuels”.

While the scientific evidence is clear on the need for swift and significant cuts in fossil-fuel use if warming is to stay below 1.5C, the wording being discussed at COP28 is anything but.

As Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A explained on Wednesday, many of the words and phrases being put forward are contentious or are ambiguous. There is currently no agreed definition for what constitutes “abated” or “unabated” fossil fuels. Some disagree that phase “out” means getting to zero, while phase “down” is also imprecise.

The latest draft of the global stocktake text “calls upon” countries to work “towards” one of five options:

  • “A phase-out of fossil fuels in line with best available science”.
  • Option one plus alignment to “the IPCC’s 1.5C pathways” and Paris principles.
  • “A phase-out of unabated fossil fuels…a peak in their consumption this decade” and an “energy sector…predominantly free of fossil fuels well ahead of 2050”.
  • “Phasing out unabated fossil fuels and to rapidly reducing their use so as to achieve net-zero CO2 in energy systems by or around mid-century”.
  • “No text.” (China, India and the Arab Group currently oppose the inclusion of any fossil-fuel language.)

Carbon Brief understands that parties began floating alternative language on fossil fuels on the first day of COP28. New formulations are still emerging, with elements such as timelines, differentiated targets or wording that avoids “phase-out” or “phase-down” altogether.

The list below shows options posited by countries and international alliances so far:

  • UAE in May: “Phasing out of fossil fuel emissions.” This implies ongoing fossil fuel use, with carbon capture and storage (CCS) theoretically avoiding emissions.
  • UAE in October: To “work towards a future energy system that is free of unabated fossil fuels by mid-century including by scaling…all available solutions and technologies”. This centres on unabated fossil fuels, again implying a role for “technologies” such as CCS. It adds the vague “work towards”.
  • UAE with the International Energy Agency in December:
    • “A huge increase in energy efficiency and of renewables this decade must come alongside and support a significant phase-down in fossil fuel supply and demand”. This links supply and demand cuts to the scaling up of alternatives.
    • “Renewable capacity must be trebled by 2030 to increasingly substitute…for fossil fuels”. This mentions the idea of “substitution” of fossil fuel demand.
    • “Fossil fuels must phase down significantly this decade to keep 1.5C within reach”. This uses the weaker “phase down” but adds urgency with “significantly”, “this decade” and a direct link to the 1.5C limit.
  • US-China Sunnylands statement: To “sufficiently accelerate renewable energy…through 2030…so as to accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation…[giving] meaningful absolute power sector emission reduction, in this critical decade of the 2020s”. This centres substitution and action this decade, but only addresses the power sector.
  • EU in October: A “global phase-out of unabated fossil fuels and a peak in their consumption…this decade”, aiming for an “energy sector…predominantly free of fossil fuels well ahead of 2050”. This adds timing, while the latter sentence avoids “phase-out” and “unabated”, but adds ambiguity with “predominantly”, which could mean almost all or more than half.
  • High-level committee at COP28: The “phase-out of unabated fossil fuels, in particular coal…with developed countries taking the lead”. This adds differentiation and spotlights coal.
  • Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) on 6 December: A “just and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels in the context of a just transition, with developed countries taking the lead” and with renewables “strategically implemented…to displace fossil fuel[s]”. This centres equity and substitution.
  • Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) on 8 December: A “phasing out of fossil fuels in line with 1.5C, the best available science, and principles and provisions of the Paris Agreement”, as well as “no new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure”. This gives definition via the science, links to 1.5C and adds an additional marker on ending fossil fuel investments.
  • World Climate Research Programme scientists: “[M]oving towards the phase-out of fossil fuel combustion is necessary to keep the 1.5C goal…within reach.” This has the rider “towards”, but puts the focus on fossil fuel “combustion” and links to 1.5C.
  • Group of 800+ leaders from business, civil society, politics and academia: “An orderly phase-out of all fossil fuels in a just and equitable way, in line with a 1.5C trajectory.”

If COP28 is to agree language on fossil fuels, it is likely to include several of these elements around timing, pace, differentiation and equity – as well as additional adverbs and adjectives. It may also tie fossil-fuel cuts to access to finance and technology.

Carbon Brief’s text tracker and deputy editor Dr Simon Evans’ Twitter account will continue to bring updates on the latest drafts for the global stocktake and other areas.

The search for agreed language is a key test for the summit. If it can be found, it would send a signal about the future path of the global economy to consumers, regulators and investors.

Crucially, the stocktake also informs the next round of national climate pledges out to 2035 – or even 2040. This matters because by the time of the next global stocktake in 2028, the already-tiny carbon budget for 1.5C will have been almost completely used up.

SURVIVAL MODE: Grist detailed the Marshall Islands’ “life-or-death” climate adaptation plan, which calls for billions in funding and says that many islanders will likely need to leave as “climate impacts worsen”.

OFFSETTING: The Financial Times looked at the “looming land grab in Africa for carbon credits” in the context of ongoing COP28 talks on the rules for a new global carbon market.

FIGUERES ON COP28: The Rest is Politics podcast, hosted by the UK Labour party’s former PR man Alastair Campbell and former Conservative minister Rory Stewart, spoke to former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres on all things COP28.

DeBriefed is edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected]

Sharelines from this story


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *