Amidst the ongoing United Nations climate summit COP28 in Dubai, where world leaders deliberate the fate of fossil fuels, a newly released scientific report on Tuesday (Dec 5) predicts that global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion will reach an unprecedented high in 2023.
The controversy surrounding oil, gas, and coal, major sources of planet-warming gases, intensifies as the climate summit takes place in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE). The President of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, who is also the head of UAE’s national oil company ADNOC, has faced criticism for downplaying the need to phase out fossil fuels in response to global warming.
The latest draft of a global climate agreement, presented by the UN on Tuesday, outlines three options for addressing fossil fuels: an orderly phase-out, accelerated efforts toward phasing out unabated fossil fuels, or no mention of a phase-out. The stance on fossil fuels has become a contentious point at the summit, with nations divided over the approach.
The draft highlights the need for consensus among nearly 200 nations participating in the talks, emphasizing the importance of curbing rising global temperatures. Options in the draft vary from a robust phase-out, favored by low-lying island nations, to a less stringent approach supported by oil giants Saudi Arabia and China.
Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman asserted Riyadh’s opposition to a “phasedown/out” of fossil fuels, reflecting a broader disagreement among nations. The draft also introduces the concept of a rapid phase-out of unabated coal power within the decade and an immediate halt to new carbon dioxide-emitting coal power plants.
However, reaching a consensus at the climate summit remains uncertain, particularly as the issue coincides with what is expected to be the hottest year on record. The UAE is grappling with high air pollution levels, further complicating the discussions on the fossil fuel industry’s role.
Additionally, the Global Carbon Budget report released amid the summit indicates that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels are set to reach a record high in 2023. Despite some reductions by historically large emitters like the US and EU, emissions are projected to increase by 1.1% from the previous year, posing a setback in preventing global warming from surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius target.
The climate summit has also witnessed a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists, raising concerns about the influence of vested interests in shaping climate policy. The controversy deepened with a video showing a heated exchange between COP28 President Al Jaber and former Irish leader Mary Robinson, where Al Jaber appeared to dismiss the urgency of phasing out fossil fuels, leading to global criticism. In response, Al Jaber clarified his commitment to scientific principles but lamented the misrepresentation of his statements.