On Monday evening as the new text on global stocktake (GST) was decoded, it became evident that once again the Global South has been hit hard. It singles out coal and goes soft on other fossil fuels — oil and gas — which is likely to be heavily contested by developing countries, especially India. Though it charts a path toward reducing fossil fuel production and consumption by 2050, aligning with scientific recommendations, notably, the document avoids explicit terms like “phase out” or “phase down,” which have sparked significant debate during the conference. Experts believe this might severely hamper attempts to arrest global warming to 1.5°C under the Paris Agreement.
“ It will be a surprise if this language is not contested heavily by the global south in the final stages of the negotiations process,” said Vaibhav Chaturvedi, Fellow, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). Today is the final day of the UN annual climate conference COP28 in Dubai.
The text mandates reductions in fossil fuel production, essentially achieving similar objectives as a phase-down, albeit without the contentious language. Despite potential dissatisfaction from certain countries and activists, the presidency resisted intense pressure to dilute the agreement. The text, however, goes on to strengthen the language on coal by now adding “rapidly phasing down unabated coal” and “limitations on permitting new and unabated coal power generation”.
“If we fail to issue a decisive and strong directive from COP28, we stand at the precipice of crossing the crucial 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold. Such a scenario would unleash catastrophic consequences globally, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable communities,” warned Harjeet Singh, Head – Global Political Strategy, Climate Action Network International. The upcoming discussions is bound to centre on this compromise, inviting governments to deliberate on the text, emphasising production reduction rather than emissions, which some view as a means for countries to explore carbon capture and storage technologies.
Following the release of the new draft, COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber called on the attending countries to deliver “the highest ambition on all items, including on fossil fuel language”.
The GST which is like the inventory taking on the 2015 Paris Agreement’s Goals has proposed options for the phase-out of unabated coal and an orderly and just transition away from fossil fuels. This is going to be heavily contested by countries such as India where the country’s majority of energy needs are still reliant on coal. “It’s a Himalayan blunder to not give the same urgency to oil and gas, which it offers to coal. Rapidly phasing down unabated coal won’t change the world’s climate. Unstoppable oil and gas emissions needed to stop,” emphasised Aarti Khosla, Director, Climate Trends. She further added how the text lacks punch and decisiveness. “It refers to large energy transformation moves like 3X RE and 2x EE, inter alia, along with expanding nuclear and carbon capture, both of which have proven to be unscalable, risky, and not the preferred choice. By including everything, the outcome could mean less.”
The GST was awaited with great expectations at COP28 as it is bound to the blueprint on which future policy actions by governments are taken and it helps stakeholders strengthen their climate policies while working out Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
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The document has outlined eight potential pathways for countries to reduce emissions, which included strategies such as “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels in an equitable manner to achieve net-zero emissions by or around mid-century” and expanding renewable energy capacity threefold by 2030. Other suggested actions encompassed hastening the decline of unabated coal usage, expediting the adoption of zero and low-emission technologies (such as renewables, nuclear, carbon capture and utilization, and low carbon hydrogen production), all aimed at substituting unabated fossil fuels within energy systems. These mitigation strategies underscore the imperative for substantial and rapid greenhouse gas emission cuts, calling upon Parties to consider various impactful measures.
“Adequate time and opportunity still lie ahead, provided that nations promptly return to the negotiating table, equipped with the resolve required for a crisis of this magnitude and a readiness to undertake the necessary measures. This current version of the COP28 text is grossly insufficient,” said Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders.