A critical crossroad: COP28’s evasive stance on fossil fuel phaseout

As world leaders convene with the hope of forging a path toward a sustainable future, is there a reluctance to confront one of the most critical issues in climate change mitigation head-on?


The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) stands at a pivotal juncture, as the latest draft text of the agreement reveals a glaring omission: the absence of a direct commitment to phase out fossil fuels. This development has sparked intense debate and concern among environmentalists and policymakers alike. As world leaders convene with the hope of forging a path toward a sustainable future, the draft’s language suggests a reluctance to confront one of the most critical issues in climate change mitigation head-on.

This year’s conference, aimed at galvanizing global action against climate change, finds itself mired in controversy. The draft, released on Dec. 12, sidesteps a definitive stance on fossil fuel reduction, instead advocating for “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels” in vague terms. This cautious approach falls significantly short of the decisive action many had hoped for, raising questions about the conference’s ability to effectively address the pressing issue of global warming.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s response to the draft was swift and scathing. He took to social media, condemning the draft as a product seemingly dictated by OPEC, characterizing it as “Of the Petrostates, by the Petrostates, and for the Petrostates.” Gore’s criticism reflects a growing disillusionment among environmental advocates, who view the draft as a capitulation to the interests of the fossil fuel industry rather than a bold step towards meaningful climate action.

The reaction from various stakeholders has been one of frustration and alarm. Environmental groups and concerned citizens alike have voiced their disappointment, questioning how the draft can adequately address the urgent need for climate action without a clear commitment to ending fossil fuel reliance. This sentiment echoes a broader concern: that the draft’s language is too lenient and fails to reflect the gravity of the climate crisis.

The omission of a clear fossil fuel phaseout in the COP28 draft text is not just a matter of wording; it has profound implications for global climate action. Fossil fuels are the primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions, and their continued use directly contradicts the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The absence of a decisive commitment to phase out these fuels signals a worrying retreat from the aggressive action needed to combat climate change.

This critical omission raises questions about the effectiveness of COP28 in steering the world towards a sustainable future. Without addressing the root cause of the climate crisis, efforts to mitigate global warming risk being inadequate. The draft’s evasive stance on fossil fuels underscores a significant gap between scientific recommendations and political will, a gap that must be bridged to avert catastrophic climate impacts.

Civil society groups have been vocal in their demand for a phaseout of fossil fuels at COP28. These groups, along with influential delegations like the European Union, represent a collective voice pushing for more robust climate action. Their stance highlights the growing consensus among various sectors of society on the necessity of transitioning away from fossil fuels to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The European Union, in particular, has been a strong proponent of phasing out fossil fuels. As a major player in international climate negotiations, the EU’s position carries significant weight. Its push for a fossil fuel phaseout reflects not only its commitment to climate action but also the urgency felt by nations that are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This collective call for action emphasizes the growing divide between the ambitions of civil society and the hesitancy of the draft text at COP28.

The pledges made under the Paris Agreement are critical to understanding the current trajectory of global warming. Despite these commitments, the world remains on a path toward a worrying 2.9°C of warming. This stark reality highlights the inadequacy of current efforts and the urgent need for more ambitious action to meet the 1.5°C target. The draft text’s failure to explicitly address fossil fuel phaseout raises concerns about the effectiveness of these pledges in combatting climate change.

2023 is projected to be the hottest year on record, a sobering reminder of the escalating climate crisis. This trend underscores the importance of strengthening global commitments to reduce emissions. The draft text of COP28, in its current form, does not seem to rise to the challenge posed by the current pledges, leaving a significant gap in the global response to climate change.

The influence of the fossil fuel industry on COP28 negotiations is a source of significant concern. The appointment of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company, as COP28 President has raised eyebrows and questions about potential conflicts of interest. His dual role has led to suspicions that the interests of the oil and gas industry might overshadow the conference’s environmental objectives.

Reports of Al Jaber promoting oil and gas deals in talks surrounding COP28 have only intensified these concerns. The potential for industry influence to undermine ambitious climate action is a critical issue that needs addressing. This scenario highlights the delicate balance between economic interests and environmental imperatives in global climate negotiations.

The Global Stocktake is a key mechanism in the Paris Agreement, designed to assess progress and set new goals. The draft text includes the Global Stocktake, listing actions that nations “could include” in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Among these actions are tripling renewable energy capacity, phasing down coal, and achieving a net-zero energy system. However, the language used suggests these are suggestions rather than mandatory commitments.

The inclusion of potential actions in the draft text points to a broader strategy for reducing emissions. However, the absence of mandatory language and specific timelines raises questions about the commitment of nations to these actions. The draft’s approach to the Global Stocktake reflects a broader issue of accountability and ambition in the international climate response.

Environmental organizations have criticized the draft’s language for its lack of urgency and concrete commitments. Andreas Sieber of 350.org called it a “disjointed wish list,” highlighting the gap between the draft’s recommendations and the stringent measures needed to limit warming to 1.5°C. The use of “could” instead of “shall” in the text signifies a non-binding approach, detracting from the sense of immediacy required to address the climate crisis.

The language of the draft, perceived as weak and non-committal, has become a focal point of contention. Environmental advocates argue that the draft falls short of the transformative changes necessary to make a meaningful impact on global warming. This critique underscores a growing dissatisfaction with the level of ambition and commitment in international climate agreements.

The draft text’s emphasis on technological solutions, such as carbon capture and storage, has sparked debate among environmentalists. Critics argue that reliance on these unproven technologies could extend the lifespan of fossil fuels, undermining efforts to reduce emissions. There is a growing concern that these technologies, while potentially beneficial, should not be used as a justification for delaying the phaseout of fossil fuels.

Collin Rees of Oil Change International expressed the danger of this approach, highlighting the consistent failure of these technologies to deliver on their promises. The reliance on such solutions poses a significant risk, potentially leading to a scenario where urgent action is replaced by technological optimism. This shift in focus from immediate emission reductions to longer-term technological solutions is a contentious aspect of the draft text.

Behind the scenes, the dynamics of COP28 negotiations reveal a complex interplay of interests and lobbying efforts. While some countries publicly advocate for stronger commitments, their private expansion plans in the fossil fuel sector tell a different story. This dichotomy raises questions about the sincerity and effectiveness of international climate commitments.

The negotiations also reflect the challenges of aligning diverse national interests with global climate goals. The tug-of-war between environmental imperatives and economic considerations is a recurring theme in these discussions. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering at COP28 underscores the complexities and contradictions inherent in international climate diplomacy.

As COP28 approaches its conclusion, the final negotiations are critical. Activists and environmentalists on the ground have expressed disappointment and frustration with the draft text’s content. Their reactions highlight the gap between the expectations of those advocating for urgent climate action and the outcomes of the conference so far.

The activist community remains hopeful for a strengthening of the language before the negotiations conclude. Their persistent advocacy reflects a determination to ensure that COP28 results in meaningful commitments, rather than hollow promises. The final hours of the conference are a crucial period for solidifying the global response to the climate crisis.

“The fossil fuel text is alarmingly weak and opens the door to risky, dangerous CCS/CCUS, hydrogen, nuclear, and carbon removal technologies,” said Sara Shaw from Friends of the Earth International. “These loopholes prolong the fossil fuel era, and delay and distract from any meaningful phaseout.” The fate of COP28, and indeed the global climate, hangs in the balance.


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Alexis Sterling is a seasoned War and Human Rights Reporter with a passion for reporting the truth in some of the world's most tumultuous regions. With a background in journalism and a keen interest in international affairs, Alexis's reporting is grounded in a commitment to human rights and a deep understanding of the complexities of global conflicts. Her work seeks to give voice to the voiceless and bring to light the human stories behind the headlines. Alexis is dedicated to responsible and engaged journalism, constantly striving to inform and educate the public on critical issues of war and human rights across the globe.