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Protestors have been demanding that countries make a stronger commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Fossil fuel talks to run late into night as COP28 president 'determined' to deliver deal

Minister Eamon Ryan was among those adamant that yesterday’s draft deal would not be accepted by the EU without major changes.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Dec 2023

COP NEGOTIATIONS ARE expected to run into the early hours of the morning as divisions remain between countries on cutting fossil fuels.

The conference, which was meant to end today, is trying to come to an agreement about the future of efforts to try to prevent temperatures from rising dangerously high.

After another late night of haggling last night, there was no sign that the talks were anywhere near completion, with negotiators waiting for a fresh text after wide criticism of a draft released yesterday.

The 21-page text did not go so far as to demand action on fossil fuels, only presenting measures that nations “could” take. 

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan was among those adamant that the draft deal would not be accepted by the EU unless significant changes were made. 

In an update this evening from the COP28 Presidency, a spokesperson said: “Overnight and throughout today, the COP28 President and his team have been engaging in extensive consultations with a wide representation of negotiating groups and Parties.”

“This is to ensure everyone is heard, and all views are considered. He is determined to deliver a version of the text that has the support of all Parties. Consultations will continue until 03:00AM GST.” 

3am GST (Dubai time) is 11pm Irish time. 

In his remarks yesterday, Minister Ryan said the use of the phrase ‘could include’ in the draft text would mean there would be no real obligation on countries to cut fossil fuels, saying it “kills everything”.

“Even beneath that, down the line, it’s not strong enough. It raises real problems in a whole range of different ways.”

In the area of climate finance, he said there is “much missing” and “no real opening up of the possibility of wider sources of finance and reducing harmful sources of finance”.

Campaigners had hoped the COP28 summit would take the historic step of calling for the first time for a global phase-out of fossil fuels, which account for three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions blamed for the planetary crisis.

But climate decisions must be made by consensus and Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has led opposition to the threat to its financial lifeblood.

The draft put forward by COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber — himself head of the UAE’s national oil company — only lists a series of options including reductions in fossil fuel production and consumption.

‘Broken beyond repair’

Clive Hamilton, a professor at Australia’s Charles Sturt University and veteran watcher of climate negotiations, said the “extraordinarily weak draft” showed the influence of the fossil fuel lobby, which showed up at COP28 in record numbers.

“If anything like the current text is adopted, it will show the COP process to be broken beyond repair,” he said.

Scientists say the planet has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times and that 2023 — marked by lethal disasters including wildfires across the world — has likely been the warmest in 100,000 years.

The 2015 Paris summit endorsed an ambition of checking warming at 1.5 Celsius — a goal endorsed in the latest draft, but which critics say is virtually impossible without serious efforts to curb oil, gas and coal.

“I don’t think anybody here wants to be associated with the failure to live up to this responsibility. Not a lot of people in public life are asked to make life and death choices historically,” said US climate envoy John Kerry, who helped negotiate the Paris accord.

“This is a war for survival,” he said in a closed-door session which ended at around 2:30 am.

Kerry has supported calls to phase out fossil fuels, even though the United States remains the world’s largest oil producer and much of the rival Republican Party adamantly opposes action on climate.

Former US vice president Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate advocacy, said that the “obsequious” draft looked as if it had been written by the OPEC oil cartel.

“In order to prevent COP28 from being the most embarrassing and dismal failure in 28 years of international climate negotiations, the final text must include clear language on phasing out fossil fuels,” Gore wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Jaber acknowledged yesterday there was work to do, and a person familiar with the COP28 presidency’s thinking called Monday’s text “an opening gambit” that could be built upon.

“This is not a menu in a restaurant. We have to do all of these things,” Canada’s Steven Guilbeault, part of a group of ministers tasked by Jaber to shepherd negotiations, told AFP.

The latest draft deal also includes calls to accelerate zero- and low-emission technologies — including renewables and nuclear power — in language similar to a joint statement reached last month by the United States and China, the world’s two biggest emitters.

Additional reporting by Lauren Boland