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Four days to go till COP28 is due to close and this meeting just got real. OPEC’s boss has the wobbles. For months, OPEC has slagged off the IEA and climate science and argued for a weak outcome. Now it’s panicking. In a letter to 13 members, Haitham Al Ghais asked them to block any deal and “proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy” (as opposed to emissions), railing against what he terms “irreversible consequences”.

OPEC members “are taking climate change seriously and have a proven record on climate actions”, the letter states. The IEA firmly disagrees. Al Ghais also says “politically motivated campaigns put our people’s prosperity and future at risk”. Curiously, there’s little in there on extreme weather and climate impact risks, which Lloyd’s of London warn could hit $5 trillion over a five-year-period.

No word yet on how the 13 members – Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya, the United Arab Emirates , Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Congo – responded. One can only imagine how Dr Sultan Al-Jaber feels having his summit undermined by allies. Still, amid the heat, dust and platoons of power plants and gas flares, perhaps it’s a sign the writing’s on the wall.

GST red flags

Unlike OPEC’s emissions, Al-Ghais may have peaked a little early. The scrap over fossil fuel phaseout is heating up and will require agreement across multiple strands of the talks. The key battleground continues to be the Global Stocktake (GST).

‘Longer but weaker’ is the general take on the 8 Dec draft of the latest text. It’s still fundamentally a long wishlist and four formulations around fossil fuels are currently in play:

– A phaseout in line with the best available science [notably not stating what said science is]

– Phasing out fossil fuels in line with the best available science, the IPCC’s 1.5 pathways, while respecting equity and CBDR

– A phaseout of unabated fossil fuels, consumption peak by 2030, energy sector to be ‘predominantly’ free of fossil fuels well ahead of 2050 

– Phasing out unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net-zero CO2 in energy systems around 2050.

Views are mixed. Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow reckons “it shows promise”. Simon Evans at Carbon Brief notes the ‘need for urgent action to keep 1.5C in play’ is gone. There are definitely some red flags. After all the talk of 1.5C guiding the GST as the “North Star”, reference to the target in the preamble has been axed. And massively increased renewable energy capacity that “strategically replaces fossil fuel capacity” will ring alarm bells with some developing countries, who have used mere fractions of their fair share of the carbon budget and will expect financial support, and of course for developed countries to lead the way. And finally, new references to “transitional fuels” raise questions about the continued use of gas.

If these are the red flags, there are a number of amber flags too. The section on finance places the burden of attracting cash on individual countries, stepping away from the Paris deal for finance from developed countries to developing countries. The proposal for a new fund for capacity building now comes with an added option for funding arrangements through the Green Climate Fund. In other words, ‘pay for it with what you’ve already got’. Finally, the role of public sector finance in leading private investments and providing policy signals has been cut. Echoes of Amb Kerry’s howler: “If there isn’t money to be made, there is none on the table”. 

On a more positive note, the language on L&D has now been supplemented with a recognition of slow onset events, displacement, relocation and migration, while GHG emission reductions now include timelines for other non-carbon-based potent planet warmers, namely N2O and Fluorinated gases.

Who’s saying what

Samoa: We need a fossil phaseout in line with 1.5C and tripling renewable capacity

EU: 1.5C is key, we need to cut production + consumption of fossil fuels accordingly

Bolivia: COP28 needs to end carbon colonialism & rich should pay up for damages

Guatemala: Firmly opposes any language that would lead to fossil fuel expansion

Saudi Arabia: Oppose any imposition against sovereignty, focus on emissions not sources (see OPEC framing)

Colombia: We have been punished for exiting FF, finance system needs urgent reform

India: Multilateral process must be at the core of the talks – decision by consensus is key

It’s not all about fossil fuels, of course. There are options in the GST text that could give new momentum to efforts to protect and restore nature. Option 1 in the mitigation text is good. Experts say it needs to be combined with a strong call for negotiators to focus on ways to fill the nature finance gap between now and COP30. The text also recognises the critical role of ecosystems in helping countries and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. One for the 300+ big meat lobbyists here to chew on.

Saudi blocking

All technical work is set to wrap up by mid-afternoon on Saturday, Al-Jaber told envoys on Friday. From Sunday, “Majlis” – an Arabic term used to refer to a council or a special gathering – will be formed to thrash out details. The list of key ministers tasked with running the show is:

– GST: Barbara Creecy (South Africa) and Dan Jørgensen (Denmark)

– Mitigation: Grace Fu (Singapore) and Espen Barth-Eide (Norway)

– Adaptation: Maisa Rojas (Chile) and Jennifer McAllister (Australia)

– Finance: Yasmin Fouad (Egypt) and Steven Guilbeault (Canada)

Talks on a global adaptation playbook for longer term investments – otherwise known as the Global Goal on Adaptation – are hard work. Current proposals have been described as ‘toothless’ behind closed doors. “A framework with targets without the metrics to assess progress will leave us in the same place where we are”, said another observer tracking talks closely. Blame for blocking is flying in all directions, but someone will need to sort out this mess.

The Mitigation Work Programme does not appear to be working. Tasked with charting longer term emission-cutting plans, it’s mired in technicalities, with one EU envoy despairing of “incremental progress” after 10 days of talks. Small island countries pin the blame on Saudi Arabia for blocking efforts to discuss energy pathways and emission sources.