The Battle Over Fossil Fuels: Key Focus at COP28 Climate Summit

The President of the UNFCCC COP28 climate conference, Sultan al-Jaber, delivered a significant speech at the summit on December 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The conference has brought the longstanding debate over the fate of fossil fuels into the limelight. For the past three decades, policymakers representing nearly 200 countries at the U.N.’s annual climate conference have failed to effectively address the main cause of climate change: the burning of coal, oil, and gas.

The majority of attendees at COP28 believe that the summit’s success hinges on securing a deal to “phase out” all fossil fuels. The final agreement’s language is crucial, and a pledge to “phase out” fossil fuels would likely mark a significant shift away from them until their complete elimination.

Johan Rockstrom, the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, emphasized the necessity for COP28 to mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era for the world economy. He outlined the significance of bending the curve with regard to fossil fuel usage and indicated that the continued dominance of oil, gas, and coal industries symbolizes the failure of the summit.

The debate surrounding abated and unabated fossil fuel usage further complicates the discussion. While some believe that world leaders could agree on a deal to “phase out” fossil fuels, others propose a “phase down” or focus only on coal.

Russia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, have rejected language supporting a phase-out, signaling possible opposition to this in the final agreement, while Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods believes that society should instead focus on reducing emissions.

In an unprecedented start to the conference, delegates at COP28 finalized a deal to help vulnerable countries manage climate-related losses and damages. According to Catherine Abreu, founder of the Destination Zero network, this breakthrough will lead to a focus on the issue of fossil fuels. Abreu emphasized the integral connection between fossil fuel usage and loss and damage.

The demand for a fossil fuel phase-out from more than 80 countries at COP27 in Egypt highlights a growing recognition of the detrimental impact of fossil fuels on the climate. With over 120 governments committing to tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 at COP28, initiatives to expand nuclear power and minimize methane emissions provide signs of progress.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stressed the importance of scaling efforts to phase out the burning of all fossil fuels to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis. His urgency underscores the widely accepted 1.5-degree Celsius temperature threshold, which aims to halt global temperatures from escalating beyond their environmental tipping points.


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