Friday Focus:  COP Fossil Fuel Options:  Phase Out, Phase Down or Let it Be?

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COP TALKS HEATING UP: World leaders are entering their second and final week of negotiations at the largest global climate conference, otherwise known as COP28. The issue on the table: Whether countries can commit to phasing out fossil fuels.

The U.N. published a new draft of negotiation text today, offering five different options.

Here’s what they are: 

Option 1: A phase out of fossil fuels “in line with the best available science;”

Option 2: Phasing out of fossil fuels in line with the “best available science,” while adhering to the principles and provisions laid out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords;

Option 3: A phase out of unabated fossil fuels, while recognizing the need for a consumption “peak” within this decade, and advocating for the energy sector to be predominately free of fossil fuels well ahead of 2050;

Option 4: Phasing out unabated fossil fuels to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in energy systems by or around 2050;

Option 5: No language on the future use of fossil fuels.

Our analysis: While it’s obvious that the last option is the least aggressive, the first and second option are arguably the most ambitious, as they are the broadest provisions that can be applied to a large range of sectors emitting greenhouse gases. The rest of the options allow possibilities for the prolonged use of fossil fuels. For example, options three and four explicitly mention the “energy sector” to be free of fossil fuels or net zero by a certain deadline – which excludes other sectors that produce a significant amount of carbon emissions, such as transportation.

During a press conference on Friday, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber pressed for the phase-down of fossil fuels, calling it “essential” while promising to facilitate the “most ambitious outcome” for an agreement.

“The phase down of fossil fuels is inevitable, it is essential, and the decline of fossil fuel consumption is going to happen for sure over time,” Al Jaber said. “We must be orderly and responsible when it comes to the energy transition.”

His public remarks stand in contrast to his conversations with world leaders during the conference, where he claimed there is “no science” to back the idea that phasing out fossil fuels will keep average global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Following a Guardian report outlining his remarks, Al Jaber claimed that his comments were misinterpreted.

The significance: The fossil fuel debate could feasibly be the most contentious issue at the summit. The conference is now shifting from celebrating early wins, such as an agreement to a climate fund helping vulnerable countries recover from natural disasters, to a slow-walk of tough negotiations.

Over 100 countries want an agreement to phase out the use of coal, oil, and gas. If agreed on, it would mark the first-time fossil fuels are specifically mentioned in a decision from the conference, sending a united message from global leaders on their approach toward combating emissions.

From the Washington Examiner, Daily on Energy, December 8, 2023