(Bloomberg) -- The COP28 climate summit in Dubai entered its final hours as Sultan Al Jaber, the Emirati oil executive who’s presiding over this year’s talks, sought to produce a text that would include a commitment to reduce the world’s consumption of oil and gas for the first time.
Negotiators on Monday were awaiting a draft of the agreement that would try to bridge the gap between countries that want a complete phase out of fossil fuels and those opposing it, led by Saudi Arabia and other oil exporting countries. Outstanding issues include a plan to scale up climate finance for the developing world and a framework for helping poorer nations adapt to a warmer planet.
The fossil fuel clash has dominated the fortnight of talks hosted in the United Arab Emirates, after countries failed to reach an agreement at last year’s COP27 talks in Egypt. Al Jaber told reporters on Sunday that the “time has come for us to shift gears” to deliver a timely and ambitious outcome, with the summit due to end Dec. 12.
But the conference appeared to be falling further behind, with a draft document for negotiations set to appear hours later than planned Monday.
“The areas where options need to be negotiated have narrowed significantly,” Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, the UN agency that oversees COPs, said in a Monday morning press conference. “We’re now here to discuss two issues: how high is our ambition on mitigation, and two, are we willing to back this transition with the proper means of support to deliver it.”
The big question is whether oil exporting countries can find common ground with the rest of the world to deliver an agreement on fossil fuels.
Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman already drew a firm line, insisting last week that the kingdom won’t agree to a deal that calls for the phase down of fossil fuels. His Omani counterpart Salim Al-Aufi echoed those comments on Monday in Doha, as energy ministers, including Prince Abdulaziz, gathered for a long-standing meeting of Arab oil producers.
OPEC top official also urged member countries in a letter last week to reject any agreements that target fossil fuels. A deal at COP must be agreed unanimously.
Read More: What Is COP28 and Why Is It Important?
“We need to find consensus and common ground on fossil fuels, including coal,” Al Jaber said on Sunday. “We need to also come to terms with the sources of finance and support” for adaptation and a just transition.
Despite pushing for stronger fossil fuel language, Al Jaber declined to name specific oil producing nations that were holding up climate action. Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels will rise 1.1% this year over 2022, to 36.8 billion metric tons, according to the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists.
The argument over the future of fossil fuels is happening almost a decade after nearly 200 countries signed the Paris deal to limit global temperatures to well below 2C, ideally to 1.5C, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. However, the divisions over fossil fuels are spilling out into other tracks.
“This is probably the most complicated since Paris, because it cuts across so much” including the just transition, trade, transparency and carbon, said COP veteran Alden Meyer, a senior associate at climate change think tank E3G. “It’s the complexity of the number of things ministers are juggling in a package” that makes agreeing to a text difficult, he said.
Arab nations and a group of developing countries had rejected an initial text on the global goal on adaptation earlier, though that stalemate ended on Sunday, as groups expressed their willingness to negotiate.
“We think we’ve got considerable ways to go to get a decent outcome that will be lasting,” US negotiator Trigg Talley said during talks on the issue Sunday. “What we are doing is creating a framework for implementation over a long period of time that should be robust, clear and consistent.”
Al Jaber has said repeatedly this is the first COP presidency ever to actively call on parties to come forward with language to phase out fossil fuels in the agreed text. At last year’s talks in Sharm El Sheikh, many oil-producing nations refused to even engage in a debate.
Still, climate activists have raised concerns about the UAE hosting the talks from the start, as the country is one of the world’s largest oil exporters. Al Jaber’s presidency has also been viewed with suspicion due to his other role as head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.
At least 2,456 representatives of the fossil fuel industry have been granted access to COP28, according to an analysis by the “Kick Big Polluters Out” pressure group.
--With assistance from Akshat Rathi, Anthony Di Paola and Jessica Shankleman.
(Updates with energy ministers meeting in the seventh paragraph, strategist’s comments in the 12th.)
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