DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The full-scale resistance that oil-exporting countries are mounting against a COP28 deal to end fossil fuel use is a sign of “panic,” said Germany’s climate envoy.
Last week, as ministers descended on the U.N. climate talks in Dubai, the OPEC cartel of oil-rich nations urged its 13 members, including Saudi Arabia, and OPEC+ countries to reject any agreement that aimed to slash fossil fuel production. The appeal sparked contentious debate over the weekend as officials tried to finalize a deal before COP28’s scheduled end on Tuesday.
But to Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s special envoy for international climate action, the letter was also a rare admission from the oil industry that these climate talks pose an existential threat to its business model.
“They obviously felt they needed to engage,” Morgan said in response to a question from POLITICO while speaking to a group of reporters. “Whether it was a bit of panic, whether it was a bit of realization of how far the discussions are. That’s my take on that.”
Fossil fuels have landed at this year’s climate talks in a big way after decades where they were largely absent from the negotiations, despite being the driving force behind global warming.
But as the impacts of climate change have accelerated and alternative options such as wind and solar have become more affordable, a growing number of countries are drawing attention to the need to wean their economies off oil, gas and coal.
That push is proving to be among the most contentious issues at COP28, which is taking place in a region that is home to some of the world’s top oil and gas producers.
As the talks speed toward a close, officials are working to craft language that can get support from the nearly 200 countries participating in the process. It will be up to the UAE presidency of COP28 to attempt to find consensus. Draft text over the weekend offered several options for a pledge to “phase out” fossil fuels, all with various caveats.
But several people close to the talks said that Saudi Arabia and the Arab group of negotiators have resisted such language, including storming out of one meeting room, according to one observer of the process granted anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks.
“We have raised our consistent concerns with attempts to attack energy sources instead of emissions,” Saudi Arabia’s Albara Tawfiq said during Sunday’s public session.
His comments mirror remarks delivered on Saturday in Dubai by OPEC Secretary-General Haitham Al Ghais.
“Our goal must be to reduce emissions, which is the core objective of the Paris Agreement, while ensuring energy security and universal access to affordable energy,” the OPEC secretariat posted on X, quoting Al Ghais and referencing the 2015 international climate accord to limit global warming.
Even before COP28 began, countries were aware that getting Saudi Arabia on board with supporting a fossil fuel phaseout would be supremely challenging. Oil remains the backbone of the Saudi economy, despite efforts to diversify.
“We hope following this discussion, the presidency would be able to deal with that now that he has clearly heard from all the parties,” said Seve Paeniu, minister of finance and economic development for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu. “It’s really now in the hands of the presidency.”
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