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The world’s nations remained at odds over any agreement for an end to new oil and gas projects ahead of the upcoming UN climate summit, with France, Spain, Ireland, Kenya and 11 other countries calling for the phasing out of fossil fuel production at preliminary talks this week.
After discussions over the past two days in Abu Dhabi in preparation for the COP28 summit that kicks off in the United Arab Emirates on November 30, the group of 15 nations known as the High Ambition Coalition joined a cohort of countries pushing for a global accord to dump oil and gas.
“Fossil fuels are at the root of this crisis. We must work together to develop a comprehensive global clean energy access approach to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels,” said a statement signed by 15 ministers, including some from poorer countries such as Ethiopia, Vanuatu and Samoa.
The production and use of fossil fuels needed to be wound down, including an “urgent phase-out of coal-fired power generation”, the group said, while at the same time renewable energy capacity was tripled by 2030.
The coalition also said that technology such as carbon capture and storage being pushed for by industries reliant on fossil fuels should not be used to delay climate action.
These methods would have a “minor role” to play in reducing emissions in so-called “hard to abate” sectors such as steel and cement, they said, but warned against their use for power generation.
“They should not be used to delay climate action in sectors such as electricity generation where feasible, effective and cost-efficient mitigation alternatives are available, particularly in this critical decade when emissions need to be reduced urgently and dramatically,” the group of nations said.
The question of the role of emissions-capturing technologies also resulted in fraught recent discussions among EU bloc countries, as Brussels sought to agree its negotiating position ahead of COP28.
The UN scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has allowed for a minor role to be played by technology for carbon removal.
But major fossil fuel producers, particularly in the Middle East, have pushed for it to be given greater prominence in global climate change policy agreements.
Sultan al-Jaber, president-designate of COP28 and the head of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, has spoken repeatedly about the need to reduce emissions rather than production.
However, he has also acknowledged that fossil fuels will need to be phased out by around the middle of the century, without setting a more concrete timeframe.
US climate envoy John Kerry opened his address to the plenary of the pre-COP talks in Abu Dhabi on Monday by focusing on a call for the end of coal, on which economic rival China relies, according to Vanuatu climate minister Ralph Regenvanu, a High Ambition Coalition member.
Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s minister for development co-operation and global climate policy, one of two delegates charged with leading discussions on the so-called global stocktake for COP28, said he expected the discussion about an end to “unabated” fossil fuels to be at the centre of the debate.
“It’s very clear that this is at the core of the negotiations,” he said.
Despite maintaining his optimism about the summit, he acknowledged: “We are definitely not where we need to be on any of the issues yet.
“There’s a lot of work still to be done, but I do honestly feel that there is some momentum that this COP will be an important COP where important decisions will be made and that it needs to be very ambitious.”
Jaber said he would meet on Wednesday with the heads of 10 multilateral development banks, including World Bank president Ajay Banga and Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, to discuss how to access private finance for clean energy development.
Later this week, countries will also meet for the final time before COP28 to discuss how to put into operation the so-called loss and damage fund agree at COP27.
The fund is intended as a way to help pay for the damage climate change has caused in poorer countries. But talks on how the fund should be structured, who should receive the money and who should pay have ended acrimoniously so far.
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