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Climate

The Paragraph that Could Make or Break COP28

Here’s the biggest point of contention in the all-important global stocktake.

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It’s day seven of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, and while today’s official talks and panels will focus on green solutions for cities, a debate about the future of fossil fuels is raging on the sidelines.

Delegates argued well into the night Tuesday over the wording that will appear in the final draft of the all-important global stocktake (GST), which will be presented at the end of the conference. The GST is the “heart” of COP, Politicosays. It summarizes how nations are performing on the climate pledges made in Paris in 2015, and sets an agenda for the next five years and beyond.

The biggest point of contention is the document’s 35th paragraph, which will lay out the plans for fossil fuels. Will they be phased out? If so, how? One option put forward calls for a full phase out, which would mean shifting away from oil, gas, and coal as sources of energy, with the goal of eventually eliminating their use. "The goal is an energy system that has no emissions," Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barthe Eide toldReuters. The second option calls for phasing out “unabated” fossil fuels, which is slightly murkier since a standard definition of “unabated” doesn’t exist. But the term generally refers to the burning of fossil fuels without attempts to capture and store the related emissions. Carbon Brief points out that carbon capture and storage technologies “barely exists and relying on a major scale-up is considered ‘risky.’” A third option is to include no text on the subject at all. Seeing as how fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change, the world’s plan to wean itself off them is paramount.

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But according to climate policy advocate and lawyer Natalie Jones, China, India, and the Arab Coordination Group of countries have proposed deleting paragraph 35 entirely. That means no mention of a phase out whatsoever. But paragraph 35 contains other important commitments, too, including tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030, scaling up low-emissions technologies like green hydrogen, and ending permits for new unabated coal power plants. So scrapping this paragraph altogether could well and truly torpedo the potential for this COP to produce bold, ambitious, and unambiguous climate action.

All is not lost, though. Other countries including Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, the EU, and Norway are reportedly trying to keep the prospect of a fossil fuel phase out alive by floating language tweaks to make the paragraph more palatable. This might work. As former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, who is seen as one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, said recently: “The only way to get to agreed text very often relies on creative ambiguity.”

And “quiet progress” is being made in other areas: BusinessGreen reports Spain, Kenya, and Samoa have joined a coalition to phase out domestic oil and gas production. Plus a group of 63 nations including the U.S. and Canada pledged to reduce their cooling-related emissions dramatically by 2050.

When stocktake negotiations came to a close Tuesday night, there was no new consensus on the phase-out language. The existing December 5 draft, with paragraph 35 still intact, heads to country ministers for consideration.

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read More

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