Negotiators at a crucial United Nations climate conference are wrapping up their first week of work with moderate progress on some key issues. With little time left before government ministers return for a final week of discussions, the outcomes of these negotiations will play a significant role in determining the planet’s path forward in the midst of a climate crisis.
During Wednesday’s sessions, the focus was on the transport sector, which is the second-largest source of carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming. Topics included expanding electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and decarbonizing urban freight transportation.
Despite the rapid growth of electric vehicles in certain countries, the transport sector still heavily relies on oil, accounting for nearly 91% of its energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. Moreover, this sector includes industries that are challenging to decarbonize, such as aviation and shipping. Reducing emissions in these sectors will necessitate significant increases in the production of sustainable aviation fuel for airplanes and alternative fuels like hydrogen for ships.
While the first week of climate talks achieved some measured successes, such as the establishment of a “loss and damage” fund to compensate countries affected by climate disasters and commitments from 50 oil companies to reduce methane emissions, environmentalists are primarily focused on securing commitments to phase out coal, oil, and natural gas.
The negotiations are currently honing in on how to address fossil fuels’ role in overheating the planet. A new draft of the Global Stocktake, a core document of the U.N. talks, was produced on Tuesday. However, it remains highly uncertain what will be agreed upon by the end of the conference due to the document’s complexity and the requirement for consensus among participating nations.
COP28 CEO Adnan Amin expressed optimism about the draft’s comprehensiveness and early availability, allowing for extensive discussions, particularly regarding the future of fossil fuels. Climate scientist Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, emphasized that the central issue of the meeting is the phasing out of fossil fuels, which is essential for any meaningful temperature improvement.
The draft presents various options for addressing the future of fossil fuels, ranging from a less-stringent “phasedown of unabated coal power” to a more drastic “an orderly and just phase-out of fossil fuels.”
Amin noted that there has been momentum and clarity regarding the need to phase out fossil fuels since September. However, negotiators may still consider alternatives to the phase-out or phase-down terminology, as some countries, particularly poorer ones, may view it as too restrictive.
Climate experts stress the importance of closely monitoring the language used in the final agreement to avoid potential loopholes. The inclusion of the term “unabated” in discussions allows for the burning of fossil fuels if their emissions can be captured and stored. This technology has been widely discussed but has yet to prove its effectiveness.
In conclusion, the UN climate conference has seen moderate progress in its first week of negotiations, with a focus on the transport sector and the creation of a loss and damage fund. However, the critical issue of phasing out fossil fuels remains a central point of discussion with differing proposals on the table. The language and commitments in the final agreement will be crucial in determining the conference’s success in addressing the global climate crisis.