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Draft COP28 agreement text criticised for fossil fuel omission – Expert Reaction

Weak wording around eliminating fossil fuels has prompted criticism of the draft agreement at the COP28 climate change summit. 

The agreement refers to reducing the production and consumption of fossil fuels, and phasing down “unabated” coal, as actions countries “could include” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The NZ SMC asked experts to comment. 

Ralph E. H. Sims, Professor Emeritus, Sustainable Energy and Climate Mitigation, Massey University, comments:

“It is usual at COPs that initial draft texts are a starting point and national negotiators (and ministers) go into huddles of like-minded countries to come up with suggested amendments. This can take many hours which is why often the negotiations continue all night. And on occasions the event is even extended by 1 or 2 days to reach an agreed conclusion (often making it hard for delegates to meet their scheduled flights home).

“The pressure is on the COP28 President to now reach a consensus between the widely diverse views of most countries wanting a phase-out/ phase down of fossil fuels versus those countries (eg. Saudi, Russia, UAE) that extract, process and sell them to give a large share of their GDP.

“It would be a major loss of face for UAE not to gain some consensus – but that might mean it being watered down – as it was in the initial draft stating the “reduction of production and consumption” of fossil fuels.

“By comparison the stated aim to triple global renewable energy and double energy efficiency is relatively easy to gain a supportive consensus. Even so, it is very vague in that the statement doesn’t mean each country has to meet these targets individually.

“Positive statements in the draft include the various references to the IPCC 6th Assessment Report (2022/23) that implies the assessment of the latest scientific knowledge has been considered during the COP28 deliberations for both adaptation and mitigation issues. The IPCC has also been requested to undertake a renewed global stocktake of emissions in a special report to be completed by 2026.

“Whether a final report will be agreed by all 190 or more countries represented in the next few hours, or some countries will walk out of the negotiations, or a timid version of the need for urgent action will be the final outcome, is anybody’s guess. There is a lot at stake for Dubai, as there was in Paris in 2015 where deliberations also went down to the wire before celebrations finally erupted.

“Right now I wouldn’t bet on any of the options reaching a consensus.”

No conflicts of interest.

The Australian Science Media Centre also gathered expert comments:


Professor Samantha Hepburn, Professor in Energy Law at Deakin Law School, Deakin University, comments:

“The failure of the COP28 draft agreement to explicitly incorporate a phasing out of fossil fuels is a decision to ignore the science. This will have catastrophic implications for climate-vulnerable communities and species.

“The AR6 Synthesis report 2023 stated that projected cumulative future CO2 emissions over the lifetime of existing fossil fuel infrastructure, without additional abatement, currently exceed the total cumulative net CO2 emissions for a warming of 1.5 degrees.

“In order to limit warming to 2°C or lower approximately 80% of coal, 50% of gas, and 30% of oil reserves cannot be burned. If we don’t phase out fossil fuels and attempt to stay at 2°C or lower we are failing to prioritise the protection of these vulnerable people and species.

“Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Human mortality from floods, droughts and storms is 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions.

“How can COP28 claim to be supporting (i) fast-tracking a just, orderly, and equitable energy transition; (ii) fixing climate finance; (iii) focusing on people, lives and livelihoods; and (iv) underpinning everything with full inclusivity if it is not phasing out fossil fuels?

“This failure only perpetuates unsustainable ocean and land use, social and economic marginalisation, and historical patterns of structural inequity.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

Professor Mark Howden, Director of the Institute for Climate Energy and Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University, comments:

“The draft text misses out on the urgency component of the transition. To respond effectively to the climate challenge the text should read that reductions in fossil fuel use should be done in a ‘rapid, just, orderly and equitable manner’.

“The rather vague timing of going to net zero ‘’by, before or around 2050’ is not consistent with the science. To keep temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial we need to go to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by around 2038. And that assumes that we start the emission-reduction trajectory now – which is challenging given that each year we continue to break previous records of carbon dioxide emissions.

“The science and analysis of groups like the IPCC and the IEA is clear – we have to move away from fossil fuels quickly and comprehensively. And in doing so we will save on the trillions of dollars of fossil-fuel subsidies globally and generate better overall economic outcomes as well as protecting lives, livelihoods, our environment and whole countries like those of some of our Pacific neighbours.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, comments:

“The fossil fuel lobby has mobilised its enormous influence at COP28. Its influence is reflected in the extraordinarily weak draft text circulated by the Chair of the conference.

“By avoiding any commitment to a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, the text repudiates the now-deafening message of climate science and consigns low-lying island states to inundation by rising seas.

“If anything like the current text is adopted, it will show the COP process to be broken beyond repair. Nations that understand the urgency of a rapid fossil fuel phase-out would be better off blowing up the process by refusing to endorse a text like this one.”

Note: Professor Hamilton is the author of five books on climate change, has attended several COPs (though not this one) and served as a Member of the Climate Change Authority.

No conflicts of interest declared.

More expert comments from the AusSMC are available on Scimex.