COP28 fossil fuel debate sizzles

COP28 fossil fuel debate sizzles

Pressure mounting at climate talks as latest data indicate world has had its hottest year ever

The sun rises in Dubai, site of the COP28 climate talks, as negotiators thrash out the thorny issue of planet-heating fossil fuels. (Photo: AFP)
The sun rises in Dubai, site of the COP28 climate talks, as negotiators thrash out the thorny issue of planet-heating fossil fuels. (Photo: AFP)

DUBAI - With 2023 confirmed to be the hottest year on record by Europe's climate monitor, the temperature was also rising on Wednesday for negotiators thrashing out the thorny issue of fossil fuels at the UN climate talks in Dubai.

Pressure for progress is mounting as COP28  (Conference of the Parties) neared the end of its first week, with the latest draft of a global climate agreement "probably" expected on Wednesday before it is finalised, in theory, on December 12, said one observer.

The fate of oil, gas and coal — the main drivers of human-caused planet heating — has been the biggest sticking point on the agenda, and divisions around their future have dominated the conference.

The situation is "very dynamic", one negotiator said on Tuesday evening, as representatives of nearly 200 countries haggle over the text that responds to a damning stock-taking of progress on limiting warming.

Battle lines have previously been drawn on whether to agree to "phase out" or "phase down" fossil fuels.

A new phrase committing to an "orderly and just" phase-out of fossil fuels could signal a consensus candidate, giving countries different timelines to cut emissions depending on their level of development and reliance on hydrocarbons.

But there is another option: no mention at all of fossil fuels, which reflects opposition from nations including Saudi Arabia and China, according to several observers who attended the closed meetings.

India on Tuesday evening also opposed naming specific sectors or energy sources, one observer said.

All aboard the climate 'train'

The Paris Agreement that emerged from COP21 in 2015 was a "great success for all of us," Saudi Arabia's chief climate negotiator Khalid Almehaid told the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Forum on Tuesday.

"The challenge that we have today is how can we keep that train with all of its passengers," he added, alluding to the kingdom's objection to phasing down fossil fuels.

As it stands, the draft agreement includes options to phase out fossil fuels or not address the issue at all, setting the stage for tough negotiations due to end next week.

Climate experts, however, have warned that global warming could breach the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris deal limit within seven years if emissions are not slashed.

The new draft of the negotiated text expected on Wednesday must be brought to a large plenary meeting taking stock of the first week of talks ahead of a rest day on Thursday.

Meanwhile, 2023 has seen a series of devastating extreme weather events linked to climate change, even as the world's carbon emissions continue to rise.

Europe's climate monitor on Wednesday said this year will be the hottest in recorded history after November became the sixth record-breaking month in a row.

 'Temperature will keep rising'

Last month smashed the previous November heat record, pushing 2023's global average temperature to 1.46 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service said.

There had been previous warnings this year could take the title of hottest year from 2016 — particularly after records toppled in September and October — but this marks the first time it has been confirmed.

November also contained two days that were 2C warmer than pre-industrial levels. Not one such day had ever before been recorded.

Samantha Burgess, deputy head of the Copernicus service, said that 2023 has "now had six record-breaking months and two record-breaking seasons".

"The extraordinary global November temperatures, including two days warmer than 2C above pre-industrial (levels), mean that 2023 is the warmest year in recorded history," she said.

Copernicus head Carlo Buontempo said that "as long as greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising we can't expect different outcomes".

"The temperature will keep rising and so will the impacts of heatwaves and droughts."

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