A decades-long push by small island nations and other developing countries to put fossil fuels squarely at the center of United Nations climate talks got a boost this week as the European Union Parliament passed a resolution calling for a “tangible phase-out of fossil fuels as soon as possible.”
The resolution outlines the position of elected European Union lawmakers going into COP28 and could help ensure that negotiators focus on a phaseout at the negotiations beginning Nov. 30 in Dubai, where climate finance, and a global stocktake of climate actions since the Paris Agreement, are also key agenda items.
The EU Parliament resolution says phasing out fossil fuels is the only way to still meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. It also calls for “halting all new investments in fossil fuel extraction,” and for the parties at COP28 to work on developing a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to augment the non-binding United Nations climate convention.
Fossil fuels are the main source of the greenhouse gas pollution that is disrupting Earth’s climate, but they were not mentioned in an official United Nations climate decision until just two years ago at COP26 in Glasgow, where the final non-binding documents included language that called on countries to accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels. Until COP26, oil and gas-producing countries blocked any specific mention of fossil fuels in official texts, which require agreement from all 198 countries.
“There can be no doubt that the parties coming to COP28 need to do everything possible to limit the global warming increase and keep the 1.5 target alive,” he said. “Climate change is a crisis that is already ravaging our vulnerable small island states.The global goal of reaching net zero by 2050 must be backed up by credible, urgent action. We are looking to the developed world who are responsible for 80 percent of global emissions to lead the way.”
The most urgent immediate step is to stop supporting new fossil fuel developments, he said, adding that, even if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, many developing countries “will continue to incur severe loss and damage” from global warming.
“We must stop feeding the beast,” he said. “We incentivize this industry and exorbitant subsidies are given to fossil fuel companies, while commitments that have been made with respect to finance for climate lay on the wayside.”
Ahead of COP28, the Alliance of Small Island States is calling on major emitters to ensure that global emissions peak before 2025 and are halved by 2030, reaching zero emissions by 2050.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
In a Nov. 17 briefing, State Department officials acknowledged that language about a fossil fuel phaseout will be an important part of COP28 discussions, especially as part of a package of actions aimed at trying to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. There is no commitment by the United States to join a call for a phaseout, but a high-ranking State Department official said there is not a clearly visible red line for the U.S. regarding language related to a fossil fuel phaseout.
Going into the COP28 talks, the official said, the U.S. position remains close to the language of the most recent G7 statement, which commits to accelerating the “phase-out of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050 at the latest.” The discussions in Dubai may result in some new creative iteration of the fossil fuel phaseout or phase-down language in order to find consensus among the nearly 200 countries in attendance, the official said.
Whatever the U.S. says about a fossil fuel phaseout at COP28 is likely to be met with skepticism because of the country’s recent push to expand domestic oil and gas production and increase gas exports. Those actions speak louder than words and have generated anxiety ahead of the climate talks, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Wednesday.
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Fossil fuel companies are doing well financially and they “intend to continue to do well,” she said, “so there’s going to be a lot of discussion about how we temper those expectations and actually begin talking about a phaseout and how deep it’s going to be. I think it will be a very challenging discussion.”
The discussion will also have to take geographic and economic nuances into account, said climate policy expert Rachel Kyte, dean emerita of the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
Even if there is some general agreement on phaseout language, the voluntary approach of the Paris Agreement, means each county will do it in its own way, she said.
“That would allow the fact that the transition is going to be slightly different in different parts of the world,” she said. Oil-producing Gulf States may, at some point, commit to phasing down or phasing out fossil fuels, she said, “but they wholly expect to be the people producing the last barrels of oil and gas because they can do it at a better cost and cheaper than anywhere else.”
Getting a strong statement this year about a fossil fuel phaseout will be complicated by the fact that COP28’s presiding functionary is also an oil company executive, said Sébastien Duyck, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law.
“The presence of the chief of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the world’s twelfth-largest oil company by production, as lead of a U.N. climate conference is already an outrageous illustration of the gross capture of international climate policy by the fossil fuel industry and its allies,” he said. “Given how fossil fuel interests and lobbyists are embedded in many delegations participating in the climate talks, it is delusional to expect that this process alone could deliver a fair and effective phase out of fossil fuels.”