December 12, 2023

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

By Nick O’Malley
Updated December 12, 2023 — 6.59amfirst published at 5.39am
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Dubai: Climate-vulnerable nations’ hopes 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.

Australian Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, speaking on behalf of the Umbrella Group of nations, which includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and Canada, told the COP that the group could not sign the agreement as it stood.

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

“Some of the world’s largest economies have now called for a phase out of unabated fossil fuels,” Bowen said. “Some of the world’s smallest countries have now called on us to transition away from fossil fuels in an orderly and just manner. The rest of us should find it within ourselves to join them.

“The draft text, with respect, does not do that.”

He noted that Samoan resources minister Cedric Schuster, the chair of the Association of Small Island States, said vulnerable nations would not sign their own death certificate.

“We will not co-sign it,” he said. “We are a very diverse group but we are very united tonight.”

Alden Meyer, a climate analyst with the international policy group E3G, said the text had been made so weak that it would threaten global trust in the entire Paris Climate Accords process unless it was repaired.

“It is basically a surrender note to the world. It says we are not serious about addressing this crisis,” he said.

“If it doesn’t get much stronger, it leaves the forces of ambition with a Hobson’s choice: they can either accept an unacceptably weak text which will basically condemn us to blow through 1.5 degrees [above pre-industrial average temperatures] and maybe make it impossible to stay well below 2 degrees, or they can indicate this is not acceptable and block the text and come out of here with no decision.


“Either way it’s really a failure and a very big to blow confidence in the ability of the world community to hang together on this existential crisis.”

He said previously strong language on the need for the world to end the use of fossil fuels had been watered down so much that it was impossible to tell whether the COP’s president, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, had capitulated to Saudi Arabia and a handful of other oil-rich nations, or whether he was seeking to provoke a reaction from the rest of the world so strong that he could go back to them and extract some concessions.

He said a more positive outcome now depended on large nations such as China, the United States and India joining in strong opposition to the current draft.

Earlier in the talks, there had been hope that after decades of effort, the COP 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 COP28, 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, more than 80 nations were backing the effort, 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 to 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.

An Iraqi representative told a meeting, called to break the deadlock, that they 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.

The terms “phase out” and “phase down” were absent, 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”.

Negotiations were set to end at 11am (6pm AEDT) but, 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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