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The Next Economy
As COP28 Goes Into Overtime, Hope Dwindles for Meaningful Climate Agreement

Climate groups and world leaders decry draft agreement as falling fatally short of the clarity and ambition the climate and economy demand — including a phase-out of fossil fuels.

Update, 12/13: Read details about the final climate agreement reached in Dubai — which includes little to address the concerns raised by the draft agreement.

As the deadline to publish a final COP28 agreement passes and the summit enters overtime, hundreds of world leaders and global organizations are pleading with negotiators in Dubai to drastically improve the agreement to meet the urgency of the moment. One of these, Ceres, said that the draft text published yesterday falls fatally short of what the global climate and economy demand: a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels.

Ceres CEO and President Mindy Lubber said “the draft agreement published yesterday does not reflect the level of urgency and ambition demanded by the global climate crisis. Instead of requiring a phase-out of fossil fuels, it provides countries with a much weaker option to cut emissions and reduce both the consumption and production of fossil fuels. It fails to call for the phase-out of fossil fuels, which hundreds of private sector leaders have called for in the final agreement. The agreement also lacks specificity regarding interim targets, disclosure and transparency for reducing emissions from fossil fuels. This lack of specific direction leaves open the potential for countries and industries to not act aggressively on combatting the climate crisis.”

The draft text avoids the highly contentious calls for a “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuels, which have been the focus of deep disagreement among the more than 190 countries meeting in Dubai. Instead, it frames such reductions as optional — by calling on countries to “take actions that could include” reducing fossil fuels.

“That one word ‘could’ just kills everything,” said Ireland’s environment minister, Eamon Ryan — adding that the EU could walk out of the talks if the text did not improve. “We can’t accept this text — it’s not anywhere near ambitious enough. It’s not broad enough. It’s not what parties have been calling for … we have to stitch climate justice into every part of this text, and we are not anywhere near that yet.”

As Al Gore said in a tweet: “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. It is even worse than many had feared. It is ‘Of the Petrostates, By the Petrostates and For the Petrostates.’ It is deeply offensive to all who have taken this process seriously.

“In order to prevent COP28 from being the most embarrassing and dismal failure in 28 years of international climate negotiations, the final text must include clear language on phasing out fossil fuels. Anything else is a massive step backwards from where the world needs to be to truly address the climate crisis and make sure the 1.5°C goal doesn’t die in Dubai.”

According to Al Jazeera, COP28 director general for the United Arab Emirates, Majid Al Suwaidi, said at a news conference on Tuesday that the aim of the draft text was to “spark conversations:” “When we released it, we knew opinions were polarized; but what we didn’t know was where each country’s red lines were.”

It seems those red lines have since been made clear.

Climate groups — as well as the leaders of an umbrella group of countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, the UK and the US; and the Alliance of Small Island States — widely critiqued the text as being “grossly insufficient,” and said it reflected the world’s reluctance to emphatically close the door on new coal, oil and gas production. John Silk, Head of the Republic of Marshall Islands delegation, said his country won't accept an outcome all but ensures its devastation.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands did not come here to sign our death warrant. We came here to fight for 1.5 and for the only way to achieve that: a fossil fuel phase-out. What we have seen today is unacceptable. We will not go silently to our watery graves. We will not accept an outcome that will lead to devastation for our country, and for millions if not billions of the most vulnerable people and communities.”

It’s the latest in a string of ever-more-tepid agreements to come out of recent COP events: COP27’s agreement largely echoed what was officially stated at COP26 — aside from a dialing-back of the proposed “phase-out of fossil fuels” to the much weaker “phase-down” in the final hours of negotiation.

According to Reuters, as of early morning Wednesday, Dubai time, new deal text is due later in the day.