The future of fossil fuels at the heart of COP28 in Dubai

by Valerie Volcovici and Kate Abnett

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The exit from fossil fuels will be one of the major challenges of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP28) which opens Thursday in Dubai and ends on December 12.

The United Arab Emirates, hosts of the meeting, defend the vision of a low-carbon future compatible with the maintenance of fossil fuels, shared by other major oil and gas producing countries.

Faced with countries calling for the gradual abandonment of coal and hydrocarbons as a priority, they recommend relying on technology to improve carbon capture and storage.

The context is documented in numerous reports. While the planet is expected to record a new temperature record this year, the current commitments of States are not sufficient to avoid the most dramatic consequences of global warming.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) weighed in before the meeting, saying that relying on carbon capture was an “illusion” and that the fossil fuel sector had to choose between worsening of the climate crisis and the shift towards renewables.

This report angered OPEC, which accused the IEA, an organization close to the West, of slandering oil producers.

“This is an extremely narrow framework for the challenges ahead, which perhaps quickly downplays issues such as energy security, energy access and affordability,” said the Organization of Exporting Countries. of oil.


One man will particularly attract attention, the president of COP28 Sultan al Jaber, whose status as CEO of the Emirates national oil company ADNOC raises doubts about his abilities to conduct negotiations in a neutral manner.

This is especially true since the BBC broadcast an investigation on Monday, based on leaked documents, according to which Sultan al Jaber planned to discuss gas or commercial contracts with around ten governments ahead of the summit. A COP28 spokesperson said the documents were “inaccurate”.

Sultan al Jaber said in July that phasing out fossil fuels was “inevitable”, but he also believes the oil and gas industry must be involved in the fight against climate change and encourages companies to make commitments to reduce their carbon footprint. This COP28 will sometimes feel like a trade fair, with a record number of 70,000 participants registered this year and many companies represented.

One of the major tasks of the meeting will be to assess the gap between the promises made by States to limit, as provided for in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the rise in temperatures to 1.5°C. compared to pre-industrial times, and the actions undertaken.

This process, called “global stocktaking”, must result in a global action plan which governments will then have to translate at the national level, through targeted measures and objectives, which they will have to present to the United Nations in 2025.


Before the Dubai conference, the United States, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates sought to unite around an agreement aimed at tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Around a hundred countries now approve this objective, according to officials interviewed by Reuters, but certain major powers such as China or India have not yet joined.

The US administration also hopes that a recent climate agreement between the United States and China will provide positive momentum to the meeting. Through this agreement, Washington and Beijing agreed to increase renewables and accelerate the replacement of fossil fuels.

COP28 will also have to prepare the launch of a fund for losses and damage due to climate change, intended for countries affected by irreversible damage caused by droughts, floods or even rising water levels.

A draft agreement has been drawn up. Gayane Gabrielyan, Armenian negotiator, considers it crucial that an agreement on losses and damages is reached this year, because the US presidential election in November 2024 could call everything into question.

The fund would require hundreds of millions of dollars. The United States and the EU have already promised contributions and are pushing for China or the Emirates to commit in turn.

“As past experiences show, most of these global agreements, most of the promises have unfortunately not been respected,” notes Najib Ahmed, consultant for the Somali Ministry of Climate. “But again, we cannot lose hope.”

(Jean-Stéphane Brosse for the French version, edited by Tangi Salaün)

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