Big divisions loom over fossil fuels as COP28 talks head into final phase

By David Stanway, Gloria Dickie and Kate Abnett

DUBAI (Reuters) -The president of the COP28 climate summit on Sunday urged negotiators to work harder to find consensus on a proposed first-of-its-kind deal to phase out the world’s use of fossil fuels, as the two-week conference entered its final stage.

The talks in Dubai have highlighted deep international divisions over the future role of oil, gas and coal that are complicating efforts by nearly 200 countries to hash out an agreement before the summit’s scheduled end on Dec. 12.

A coalition of more than 80 countries including the United States, the European Union and small island nations are pushing for an agreement at COP28 that includes language to “phase out” fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming.

They are coming up against tough opposition led by the oil producer group OPEC and its allies.

Seeking a breakthrough on Sunday, COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber took the unusual step of convening a ‘majlis’ – an Arabic term for a communal gathering – where delegations could speak in a different forum to the formal forward-facing plenary hall.

“We are now in the end game,” Jaber said. “I hope that you won’t let me down.”

Speaking in a circular configuration, delegations restated their positions, but it was not immediately obvious that the forum had yielded a shift in positions.

OPEC had issued a letter to its members and backers on Dec. 6 asking them to oppose any language targeting fossil fuels in a COP28 deal, and observers in the negotiations told Reuters that some of those delegations appeared to be heeding the call.

“I think there are still quite entrenched positions,” Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertyński, Poland’s deputy minister for climate who is heading the country’s COP28 delegation, said prior to the majlis on Sunday.

OPEC’s biggest producer and de facto leader Saudi Arabia, along with Russia and others, have argued that the focus of COP28 should be on reducing emissions, not on targeting the fuel sources that cause them.

China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, on Saturday said a COP28 deal can only be considered a success if it includes an agreement on fossil fuels – though he did not say whether Beijing would back a “phase-out” deal.

“The positions on the issue are currently very antagonistic, and China is trying to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties and can solve the problems,” he said, describing COP28 as the hardest climate summit of his career.

U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry met with Xie at the China delegation offices for 45 minutes on Sunday. Kerry did not say what the pair discussed.

A draft text published on Sunday proposed that next year’s COP29 climate summit be hosted by Azerbaijan between Nov. 11 and Nov. 22. The text will need to be adopted by the summit before it becomes official.


The latest version of the core negotiating text, released on Friday, shows that countries were still considering a range of options – from agreeing to a “phase out of fossil fuels in line with best available science,” to phasing out “unabated fossil fuels”, to including no mention at all.

Abating fossil fuels typically means reducing their climate impact by either capturing and storing their carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture is expensive and has yet to be proven at scale.

Three sources told Reuters that the COP28 presidency did not intend to release another draft until Monday, something that would leave negotiators just one full day to resolve differences ahead of the conference’s scheduled end on Tuesday before noon.

Speaking at the majlis on Sunday, a representative for Saudi Arabia’s delegation reiterated its position that a COP28 deal should not pick and choose energy sources, but should instead focus on cutting emissions.

“We have been thinking hard about how to send an inclusive signal to the world on what the science is telling us, entirely without cherry picking,” the representative said. “We have raised our consistent concerns over the attempts to attack energy sources instead of emissions.”

OPEC member Iraq echoed the stance.

Britain and Australia were among the few countries to offer a glimmer of compromise, saying flexibility on the fossil fuel language was possible as long as there were enough safeguards.

The European Union, meanwhile, reiterated its position that the phase-out of fossil fuels was an essential component of any deal to avert the worst of climate change.

“We are running out of time. And with all respect for your deadline, the time we are running out of is the time for our planet,” said Wopke Hoekstra, the EU’s chief negotiator at COP28.

The conference has yielded a slew of other commitments from countries to hit targets like tripling renewable energy and nuclear power deployments, slash coal use and curb emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) on Sunday said these pledges – if honoured – would lower global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 4 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030.

While the figure is substantial, it represents only about a third of the emissions gap that needs to be closed in the next six years to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the IEA said.

“An ‘orderly & just decline of global fossil fuel use’ is needed to keep 1.5C in reach,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at the Doha Forum, urged leaders at COP28 to agree on deep cuts to emissions to stop global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Guterres said that despite pledges, emissions are at a record high and fossil fuels are the major cause.

“I urge leaders at COP28 in Dubai to agree on deep cuts to emissions, in line with the 1.5-degree limit,” he said.

For daily comprehensive coverage on COP28 in your inbox, sign up for the Reuters Sustainable Switch newsletter here.

(Additional reporting by William James, Elizabeth Piper, Jake Spring, Sarah McFarlane, Valerie Volcovici, Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Susan Fenton and Mark Porter)