DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Teams of veteran negotiators fanned out Friday at the United Nations climate conference with orders to get the strongest, most ambitious agreements possible, especially on the central issue of the fading future of fossil fuels in a dangerously warming planet.
The leadership of climate talks, called COP28, sent out four pairs of veteran and high-level ministers to push countries together on four key but stubborn issues as the summit went into its second week after a day of rest Thursday.
New proposed language on how to curb warming released Friday afternoon strengthened the options for a phase-out of fossil fuels that negotiators could choose from. Four of the five options call for some version of a rapid phase-out.
“It’s go-time for governments at COP28 this week,” U.N. Climate Chief Simon Stiell said at a press event. “If we want to save lives now and keep (the international goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius, 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, of warming since pre-industrial times) within reach, the highest ambition COP outcomes must stay front and center in these negotiations.”
Discussions after a first week of pageantry and official visits now become more difficult, particularly when it comes to language calling for the potential phase-out of emission-spewing fossil fuels. Any language along those lines likely will draw the ire of Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer just next door to the United Arab Emirates. The UAE itself also is planning to boost its oil production from 4 million to 5 million barrels of crude oil a day to take advantage of the fossil fuel market before countries potentially shift away from its use.
Stiell underlined the challenge ahead if the world doesn’t limit emissions, describing ice shelves melting causing catastrophic flooding in coastal cities around the globe.
“If we pass these key thresholds, we can never go back from the planet’s perspective,” he said. A report released Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit warned that melting of ice sheets could reach the point of no return with more warming.
Officials haggle over what the future should look like and whether there should be a commitment to phase out oil, coal and natural gas — as climate activists, many experts and some nations say — or something softer.
Professional negotiators who have been working on getting options into shape will turn over their work to senior national officials, many at minister levels, who will have to make the tough political choices.
COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber said he was “quite positive, hopeful and optimistic” that the summit could bring a “paradigm shift centered around and based on the science.”
Members of the four pairs of high level special teams — who will work with negotiators from nearly 200 countries — said they too thought they’d be able to get the job done.
“I think there is some momentum. Having spoken to all parties’ groups of countries for months now there really is this sense of urgency,” Denmark’s Environment Minister Dan Jorgensen, told The Associated Press. “We need an agreement, so I am optimistic.”
EU countries, along with small island countries — oft-victimized by climate change — and some progressive Latin American countries are aligned on calling for a phase-out of fossil fuels, negotiators said.
Two groups of countries are likely to oppose, in some manner, a full and quick phase out of fossil fuels, said World Resources Institute CEO Ani Dasgupta. One is developing nations, like India and Indonesia, that think they need fossil fuels to power up their economies, but with financial and other aid, they can be pulled out of that position, he said.
The other group are fossil fuel producers. The United States is the biggest oil producer in the world and Special Envoy John Kerry earlier this week said the U.S. is committed to supporting strong phase-out language. But a big country looming against it is Saudi Arabia and they are close partners with the host country United Arab Emirates, that runs the conference, Dasgupta said.
The UAE has a lot to gain from a successful climate conference and “I think they will bring Saudi Arabia as close as possible,” Dasgupta said. When asked at a press conference about working with Saudi Arabia, al-Jaber avoided answering that part of the question.
“I felt from the consultations that very many parties understand that we have to have a real progress on mitigation,” climate talk for emissions cuts, said Norway Foreign Minister Espen Barth-Eide, one of al-Jaber’s special super negotiating pairs. “That was not as true in Sharm el-Sheikh” in 2022 climate talks.
Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said: “What we need to be successful here is to achieve the goal of phasing out fossil fuels … not emissions. It does make quite a substantial difference, although only one word distinguishes them.”
European negotiators provided some extra hope. The EU goal is to cut emissions by 55% by 2030, but European Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra said Friday that the European parliament hopes to do better than than and instead slice 57%.
Negotiators said there is a sense of urgency because of floods, droughts, storms and heat waves in a world that keeps setting heat records.
“We cannot negotiate with nature,” Jorgensen said. “The climate cannot compromise.”
Representatives for poor nations and climate advocates are putting a lot of pressure on negotiators on slashing fossil fuels.
“The success of COP28 will not depend on speeches from big stages,” said Uganda climate activist Vanessa Nakate. “It will depend on leaders calling for a just and equitable phase-out of all fossil fuels without exceptions and distractions.”
Associated Press journalist Sibi Arasu and Gaurav Saini from The Press Trust of India contributed to this report.
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