As the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) nears its conclusion, a pivotal “Global Stocktake” draft has sparked a vital debate over the future of fossil fuels. The draft reveals a significant loophole that could allow major fossil fuel producers to continue emissions under the guise of so-called “abated” emissions, triggering alarm among environmental activists and campaigners.
The contentious point in the COP28 draft involves a clause that advocates for “accelerating efforts toward phasing out unabated fossil fuels.” This term refers to emissions not captured through technological means such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). While over 100 countries reportedly support this clause, it has raised concerns about potentially undermining efforts to reduce fossil fuel use effectively.
Environmentalists and analysts warn that the focus on CCS technology might lead to an overall increase in energy consumption and carbon emissions, contrary to the claims of CCS proponents. They argue that this approach worsens environmental injustice, particularly impacting communities near fossil fuel plants with increased emissions of smog, benzene, and formaldehyde.
Diverging views within the draft text reflect the global divide on tackling fossil fuel emissions. While some countries support a clear phaseout of fossil fuels, others favor less definitive language or no mention of a phaseout at all.
Romain Ioualalen, a global policy manager, notes the historic nature of the debate around fossil fuel phaseout in COP agreements. He stresses the need for a decisive decline in fossil fuel production and use, advocating for a comprehensive phaseout strategy.
Critics of the draft argue that it provides a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry by endorsing CCS and other abatement technologies. This approach, they fear, allows for the continued extraction of oil and gas under the pretext of technological mitigation.
The reliance on CCS and similar technologies is seen as a dangerous path that could lead to catastrophic climate consequences, potentially surpassing the critical threshold of 1.5°C in planetary heating. Author and activist Bill McKibben criticizes this approach as playing into the hands of fossil fuel giants, who aim to prolong the use of their products under the guise of technological solutions.
The presence of a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP28 has raised significant concerns about their influence on the summit’s outcomes. With their numbers surpassing those of delegates from the most climate-vulnerable nations, there is growing apprehension that the final agreements may include substantial concessions to the fossil fuel industry.
The current state of climate commitments at COP28 has been criticized as insufficiently ambitious. The influence of industry lobbying is suspected to be a key factor in the summit’s failure to adequately address the urgent need to phase out fossil fuels.
The draft text at COP28 highlights a critical juncture in the global response to climate change. As negotiations continue, there is a pressing need for global leaders to adopt a more ambitious and unequivocal stance on fossil fuel phaseout, ensuring alignment with scientific guidance and the goal of securing a livable planet.