Meanwhile, as ministers and their staff gathered in the plenary at the Expo City campus on the outskirts of Dubai, protesters stood outside chanting: “This text is bullshit.”
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore unloaded on the proposal, saying in a statement that “COP28 is now on the verge of complete failure.”
“The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word,” Gore said. “It is even worse than many had feared.”
The U.S. State Department said the text needs improvements to “secure a strong outcome” for the summit.
“We appreciate the effort on the part of many to produce the text, which seeks to balance a variety of interests,” said a statement from a department spokesperson, who provided it on condition of anonymity in keeping with agency policy. But it said some of the language, “including the issue of fossil fuels, needs to be substantially strengthened.”
The text released Monday included a list of measures that nations would agree to pursue — albeit voluntarily. They included tripling global capacity of renewables by 2030, doubling the rate of energy savings through efficiency measures, “rapidly phasing down unabated coal” and limiting licences for new power plants. The tripling of renewables was a key goal that the U.S. and China had agreed to in a separate meeting last month.
But most controversially, the text avoided the demands from the EU, U.S. and small island nations to “phase out” fossil fuels. (The U.S., EU, Australia and other industrialized countries specifically targeted “unabated” fossil fuels — those whose greenhouse gas pollution is not captured before entering the atmosphere.) Instead, it suggests that countries commit to “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels … so as to achieve net zero by, before, or around 2050.”
Al-Jaber’s proposal was met with dismay by small island nations, the European Union and green advocates, who viewed the announcement as a betrayal of their hopes that COP28 would declare unequivocally that fossil fuels must be ended.
“The Republic of the Marshall Islands did not come here to sign our death warrant,” said John Silk, the nation’s minister of natural resources and commerce.
“Overall it is clearly insufficient and not adequate to addressing the problem we’re here to address,” said the EU’s climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra.
Others were more sanguine.
Mohamed Adow, the director of the Power Shift Africa think tank, said the deal “lays the ground for transformational change.”
He said it was a compromise between oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which opposed any mention of fossil fuels at all, and the more “progressive” nations. “We will be lucky if we get this adopted.”
Two diplomats from African countries, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about the sensitive discussions, said that for many countries on their continent the idea of a fossil fuel phaseout was unworkable.
“It was a non-starter,” said one.
The talks are officially scheduled to conclude by Tuesday, a few days before a winter festival is due to take over the sprawling, eco-futurist Expo City campus. But Hoekstra, for one, expressed skepticism that a quick conclusion is in store.
“There is a great majority of countries who actually want and demand more in terms of phasing out, and in terms of what is in the text, and in terms of getting rid of coal, and in terms of making this decade the decade in which we show the most urgency,” he said. “And it is up to us to make sure that these voices are being heard and that this is solved in the next day or next days or however long it takes.”
Sara Schonhardt, Zack Colman and Zia Weise contributed reporting from Dubai.