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The COP28 Presidency appears to have a plan, just three days from the summit’s (projected) last day. In a late plenary on Saturday, COP boss Al-Jaber sketched out his timeline – a majlis (ministerial gathering) on Sunday to find areas of agreement, followed by a first main text on Monday. It’s a high risk strategy – the current main Global Stocktake text is more a list than a package. Typically, a final decision takes 2-3 iterations, but it looks like they’re aiming to land this plan first time round. 

Al-Jaber is right when he says this process can be painfully slow. His address to envoys late on Saturday offered a growing sense of frustration at the lack of progress. “Work faster, smarter, harder. Work with a different mindset… that will allow flexibility, compromise, openness and a true understanding of the urgency of the task at hand. Now put aside self interest for the common interest,” he said. Rousing words; we’ll know if they hit home soon enough.

The sense of irritation is likely to build given the big scrap over a fossil fuel phaseout has barely begun. Heads of delegation meetings are, we understand, just re-stating red lines. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) has released a statement; the Arab Group is mooting a reply. OPEC shot its bolt two days too early. Meanwhile the US, China, India and EU are staying relatively quiet, holding their cards close for the final hours. “The window is closing to close the gaps,” Al-Jaber said.

And there are gaps aplenty elsewhere. So important and yet so hard to define, the challenged Global Goal on Adaptation negotiations roll-on. Last ’inputs’ to the Presidency were due on Saturday, with a new proposed text due on Monday. The UAE is working to secure an agreement on all text between then and the end of COP. Then of course there is the Mitigation Work Programme. China, the Arab Group and oil states are pushing for it to be more of a ‘sharing project’ as opposed to anything that will inform or ratchet up energy targets.

Defining success

Agreed definitions are key to implementing whatever text is finally agreed next week. For example, what are ‘abated’ fossil fuels? A massive scrap is likely to emerge over a definition in the final few days here in Dubai. Analysts at ZCA have knocked up four tests for a definition that are worth watching as we crawl to the finish.

1 – High carbon capture rates: There must be near-total capture of fossil fuel combustion emissions, with carbon capture rates of at least 90-95%.

2 – Geological storage: Once captured, carbon dioxide must be stored underground permanently. You cannot use it to produce short-lived products like fizzy drinks, much as we all like a G&T.

3 – Emissions from the production and transport of fossil fuels, including methane emissions, need to be virtually eliminated. This should include methane intensity levels of 0.5% at the upper limit. Post-combustion capture must also be included [all Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions].

4 – To ensure that these standards are met, there needs to be rigorous monitoring of all facilities. This data should be publicly reported and verified by third parties.

Equally, phasing out or phasing down fossil fuels by 2050 means little without a clear breakdown of what this entails. The IEA, IISD and CAT are here to help:

IEA, 2023: Demand for oil and gas declines by around 20% by 2030 – fast enough that no new long-lead time conventional oil and gas projects need to be approved for development. 

IISD, 2022: A 1.5C pathway means the world must decrease global oil and gas production and consumption by 30% by 2030, an annual average decrease of 3% for oil and gas. 

CAT, 2022: Unabated gas power generation needs to be effectively phased out (with less than a 2.5% share of generation) by 2045 in all regions of the world.

Country focus

China: Cagey

In a closed-door media briefing, China’s climate envoy Xie signalled there will be language on fossil fuels, ruling out the ‘no text’ option. However, the wording is still up in the air. China is almost certain to peak emissions before 2030 and will likely introduce a carbon emissions cap by 2025, he said. He said little on a fossil fuel phaseout deal, emphasising that new wording on this issue would be out in one or two days.

India: Bullish

Delhi’s environment chief Bhupender Yadav is less forthcoming, insisting the country “will not succumb to pressure” on fossil fuels. The fear inside India’s team appears to be that the country will be steamrolled into accepting new curbs on coal. India coal investments are falling in relative terms and solar is surging, but 70% of the grid remains coal-powered. A focus on coal, India says, could give rich countries who are oil and gas exporters, like the US, Australia and Saudi, a free pass.

HAC: No more

“We need to make fossil fuels disappear… it starts with a phasedown. Expectations on our side are that major emitters should make economy-wide targets, peaking in 2025,” said Spain VP Teresa Ribera, one of 12 ministers in the first HAC outing of COP28. A leaders’ statement dated 1 Dec details their position. “We will not go silently to our graves,” Marshall Islands minister John Silk told the plenary earlier.

UK: Orangutans

Priorities appear somewhat different in London. No appearance at the HAC from erstwhile ‘climate champs’ the UK. Instead, environment minister Steve Barclay was banging on about orangutans around the venue. Important, no doubt, but the mixed messages from No.10 are unhelpful.

Brazil: New oil

Brazil is also giving conflicting signals – as COP ends, the country will hold a mega auction of 602 new offshore oil and gas exploration fields, including 21 blocks in the Amazon Basin. Around 80 civil society organisations wrote an open letter to the government protesting the decision.