December 11, 2023

‘We did not come to sign our death warrant’: COP28 draft text derided

By Nick O’Malley
December 12, 2023 — 5.39am
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Dubai: Hopes of climate vulnerable nations that the world was on the cusp of an agreement to rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels at the COP28 climate summit were shattered when a new draft text emerged from negotiations drastically watering down such language.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands did not come here to sign our death warrant,” said John Silk, the Marshal Islands minister of natural resources. “What we have seen today is totally unacceptable. We will not go silently to our watery graves.”

An activist dressed in a robe imprinted with the picture of a forest fire in Dubai,.Credit: Getty

Earlier in the talks there had been hope that after decades of lobbying the final agreement would include language that did not just call for emissions reductions, but specifically addressed the key cause of emissions and climate change – the burning of fossil fuels.

Such a push had been discussed at G7 and G20 talks in the lead up to the talks, and language addressing fossil fuels had been included in a statement put out by the United States and China when presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in November and agreed to resume their co-operation on addressing climate change.

That statement acknowledged the need to “accelerate the substitution of coal, oil, and gas generation” in their own economies and “thereby anticipate … absolute power sector emission reduction, in this critical decade of the 2020s”.

By the time talks began over 80 nations were backing the push, but oil interests and some nations including Saudi Arabia and Iraq were pushing back.

The oil cartel OPEC sent a letter to its member nations urging them not support any reference to fossil fuels in a COP agreement, saying that “undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point”.

OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais earlier said in comments read out to the summit delegates by an official: “We need realistic approaches to tackle emissions. One that enables economic growth, helps eradicate poverty and increases resilience at the same time.”

A Saudi official told the COP28 majlis – an Arabic term describing a meeting of elders – that Riyadh’s “perspectives and concerns” must be taken into account.


“The politically backed points about targeting specific energy sectors – it’s something that we have heard at many different discussions and many different settings, but in each and every time, science, common sense, principles prevailed,” he added.

An Iraqi representative told a meeting called to break the deadlock opposed any “mention [of] global sectorial targets” including a phase-out or phase-down of fossil fuels.

A woman rests as negotiations went into the night.Credit: AP

By the time a new draft agreement appeared, calls to end fossil fuels had been almost entirely washed out of the language, devastating many delegations and observers.

The terms “phase out” and “phase down” were absent in the new draft, and a reference to reducing consumption and production of fossil fuels was qualified with the words, “in a just, orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net zero by, before, or around 2050 in keeping with the science”.

Climate advocate and former US vice president Al Gore said in a post on X the summit “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.”


“We will not sign our death certificate,” said Samoan resources minister Cedric Schuster, chair of the Association of Small Island States. “We cannot sign on to text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels.”

Negotiations were set to end at 11am (6pm AEDT), though as delegations worked into the night few expected the deadline to be met.

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Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.Connect via email.


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