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A new Global Stocktake text landed last night. It was bad. Shockingly so to some. One wit suggested this is what happens when you use AI to write a climate treaty. Perhaps this is unfair, but it speaks to the confusion among folks at COP28. How could a Presidency so outwardly committed to consulting all parties and ‘inclusivity’ produce a Global Stocktake text so messy and unbalanced? How could a Presidency so ‘laser focused’ on getting this right leave 190+ countries so perplexed?

After 10 days of mind-numbing work and promises, this is a mashup that effectively says countries ‘could’ stop using fossil fuels. Try telling your partner you ‘could’ feed the kids or maybe do the laundry by 2050 and see how that ends. These meetings cannot go on indefinitely – in the next 24 hours, many delegates from poorer nations will leave while those with smaller delegations will suffer. New elements of a text may emerge this morning. They need to address five key problems:

  1. Use of “could” in the energy paragraph, with none of the options amounting to a phasedown or phaseout
  2. No timelines for action beyond vague assertions of mid-century
  3. Few, if any, finance commitments supporting developing countries’ energy transitions
  4. No clear steer on a way forward for adaptation finance
  5.  No demand, but encourages NDCs to cover whole economies and all emissions .

“Deeply Offensive”

UN texts rely on action words to deliver, while some phrases in UN-speak are stronger than others. This text has as much leverage as King Canute and will have a similar effect on sea levels. As Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans highlights: “The whole energy package is loose”.

For the EU, small islands and Latin American countries, this text is a “slap in the face”, wrote Linda Kalcher at Strategic Perspectives. “Unacceptable” said German envoy Jennifer Morgan. The AOSIS group proclaimed they would not sign their own “death warrant” and the EU asserted late last night it is ready to walk away if the text doesn’t improve. Here’s a flavour of some other reactions:

AOSIS (39 countries): COP28 teeters on the brink of failure
LDCs (46 countries): We cannot accept the text, where is the ambition?
EU (27 countries): Text is inadequate, EU will negotiate ‘as long as it takes’
– US: Mitigation section, including the issue of fossil fuels, needs to be substantially strengthened
Germany: Language on fossil fuels is ‘completely unacceptable’ to the EU
UK: Disappointing text/must be a phaseout of unabated fossil fuels
– Brazil: We didn’t find the necessary clarity and equivalence in the energy package
Marshall Islands: We did not come here to sign our death warrant
Canada: Draft text does not yet reflect the ambition shown from countries
Ireland: Not good, not balanced, not enough
– Saudi Arabia: No comment (via BBC News)

“The world ‘could’ have decided to act after COP1 in 1995. Yet here we are, three decades later, still finding ways for countries with vested interests in their fossil fuel industries to ignore the science and dodge the urgency”, said Maria Mendiluce, CEO of We Mean Business Coalition.

Al Gore was even more forthright: “COP28 is now on the verge of complete failure. The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word. It is even worse than many had feared. It is ‘Of the Petrostates, By the Petrostates and For the Petrostates.’ It is deeply offensive”.

So who’s to blame? On paper, it appears it’s China and Saudi vs EU (27 countries), BOGA (10 countries) and AILAC (8 countries), with the US and Norway attempting to be on both sides and neither simultaneously. That’s some impressive diplomatic contortionism from the 80-year-old John Kerry. Add in FT reports that Saudi Arabia has been active in blocking talks and OPEC’s appeal to 13 member states and it’s a complete mess.

Weak Language

Away from the GST, other texts are being worked on, and there’s not much to cheer about here either:

Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA):
– New terms like “transformative adaptation” and “maladaptation avoidance” are in the text, but no-one agrees what they mean, causing talks to ground to a halt
– Playbook has weak language on targets; the only clear timelines are for reporting
– Weak language on the provision of finance, with no clear pathway to scale it up
– Acknowledges the finance gap but this text deletes the needs of countries that were spelt out in the Adaptation Gap Report.

Mitigation Works Programme (MWP):
– Now coming up to four days without a new text.

Carbon markets:
– The perennial thorn in the side of the climate talks, carbon market rules may get punted to next year again after talks got bogged down in a stalemate. A rumoured ‘take it or leave it’ meeting was cancelled late last night.

So what next? One climate veteran posed this question: “What if the UAE just gavels through a shit outcome like in Copenhagen”. It’s unlikely given COP boss Al-Jaber’s determination to ensure a transparent and inclusive process throughout this year. It would also do severe harm to the country’s reputation as a diplomatic broker if it ignored the views of 190 nation states. But stranger things have happened.