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It’s been a mad 72 hours. Shellshocked envoys and ragged hacks need a breather after the avalanche of pledges. Inside the rooms, envoys spent the day working their way through the latest Global Stocktake text – mooted to be the flagship outcome at COP28. It’ll be as big as the Burj when it drops, but all is not well. Envoys talk of a ballooned text amid whispers of an engineered crisis and “landmines” strategically placed to blow-up any potential for consensus. We’ve been here before, often as a result of Saudi tactics. Indeed none of this is new – fossil fuel lobbyists have been an ever present at COPs since the beginning, back in Berlin in 1995.

By Thursday’s ‘rest day’, the hosts will hope to have an idea of where they can take the talks and identify potential landing zones. It’s messy and tiring, but that’s what happens when you ram nearly 200 countries into a room and ask them to solve an existential crisis.

‘Beyond astonishing’

Tensions are already surfacing. UN boss Antonio Guterres weighed in on the fossil fuel heavy and detail-light ‘energy package’ that landed in Dubai on Saturday. “The announcement to achieve net zero by 2050 says nothing about eliminating emissions from fossil fuel consumption – the so-called scope 3,” Guterres said in a Sunday address to business leaders. Al Gore also piled in, arguing the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber as COP President was “abusing the public’s trust”.  

Worse was to come when Al Jaber was heard questioning whether there was any scientific basis for a phaseout of fossil fuels. “Beyond astonishing” was one take. “I strongly recommend him asking around for the latest IPCC report,” was another. It may be 115 pages, but it’s very clear: “For the world to stay on track to limit warming to 1.5C with no or minimal overshoot, CO2 emissions have to go down 48% by 2030, 80% by 2040, and 99% by 2050 (from 2019 levels)”.

No amount of tech will reduce CO2 emissions by 48% in the next seven years, least of all carbon capture and storage, which currently captures 0.1% of global emissions each year. CCS plants have been beset by difficulties and capture rates have been extremely disappointing. They are also extremely expensive, and there’s no sign of costs falling.

Cost of CCS

Just how expensive, particularly when compared with the alternative, is laid bare in a new report from Oxford University. It found that relying heavily on CCS to reach net zero will cost governments around the world at least $30 trillion more than relying on renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification. Another study out today by Cambridge Econometrics models a ‘70s style oil price shock and finds that if the world transitioned to wind and solar in line with 1.5C, it would avoid $3.5 trillion in economic damage thanks to the resilience provided by renewables. That’s $555bn of savings in a single year, or 3.5% of the global economy – findings that were reinforced by German think tank Dezernat Zukunft.

What does all this mean? Simple – you have to reduce the use of fossil-fuels. 

‘Health day’ on Sunday provided a timely reminder that cutting fossil fuel use is not just about the climate. The parade of gas power plants and six-lane carriageways that surround Dubai shrouded parts of the city in smog, leaving many struggling with the thick air. International Committee of the Red Cross chief Mardini and World Health Organisation boss Tedros both used their speaking slots to call for radical cuts to fossil fuels. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the COP28 ‘health declaration’ failed to mention the cause of their concerns.