September 30, 2023

UN climate chief calls phasing out fossil fuels key to curbing warming, but may not be on agenda of talks

The world must phase out fossil fuels if it is to curb global warming, the United Nations climate chief said in an interview with The Associated Press. But he said the idea may not be on the agenda this fall in make-or-break international climate negotiations, which are being conducted in and by an oil haven.

A phase-out of heat-trapping fossil fuels “is something that is at the top of every discussion or most discussions that take place,” said UN climate secretary Simon Stiell. “It is a problem that has received worldwide attention. We will see how that translates into an agenda item and a (climate) outcome.”

Stiell told the AP he couldn’t quite promise it would get a place on the agenda in climate talks, dubbed COP28, in Dubai later this year.

That agenda decision is up to the chairman of the negotiations, Stiell said. He is the head of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Sultan al-Jaber.

The decision by host country United Arab Emirates to appoint al-Jaber as head of the climate conference was met with strong opposition from lawmakers in Europe and the United States, as well as environmentalists. UAE officials said they want breakthrough results in the climate talks, noting that al-Jaber also runs a major renewable energy company.

Last year during climate talks, a proposal by India to phase out all fossil fuels, backed by the United States and many European countries, never made it to the agenda. What is discussed is determined by the COP president, who last year was foreign minister of Egypt, a natural gas exporting country.

When asked if Egypt’s leaders were keeping the draft agenda, Stiell, speaking via Zoom from Bonn, Germany, where preliminary talks begin Monday, said he was unable to comment except to say that “it is within their jurisdiction.”

Stiell, an engineer turned government official and diplomat, walked a fine line between talking about the importance of phasing out fossil fuels and supporting the UN process that has led countries that export oil and natural gas for two consecutive years on global warming negotiations. year.

According to the scientists who monitor emissions from the Global Carbon Project, about 94% of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide released into the air by human industrial activities last year came from the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. Al-Jaber’s company has the capacity to produce 2 million barrels of oil and 7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and said it plans to expand that drilling to 5 million barrels per day by 2027.

Getting fossil fuel phase-out on the agenda this year will depend on conference chairman al-Jaber and whether there is enough pressure from other countries, Stiell said.

“Where better to have a discussion … than in a region where fossil fuels are central to their economy?” Stiell asked.

But the issue of a phase-out of coal, oil and natural gas is so central to Stiell that he brought it up four times in Saturday’s half-hour interview. He said the real problem is getting something done, not putting it on the agenda.

In public appearances, al-Jaber has stressed that he is “laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions,” not necessarily the fuels themselves, by promoting carbon capture and removal of the pollutant from the air.

Stiell rejected the idea that carbon removal could be a short-term solution.

“Right now, in this critical decade of action to achieve those deep reductions, science tells us that this can only be achieved through reduced use, significantly reduced use, of all fossil fuels,” Stiell said in the interview.

Stiell defended the successive years of climate negotiations in and by fossil fuel exporting countries as the wishes of the “parties” or countries involved.

This year will be crucial as it is the first global stocktaking to see where the world stands in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. To meet the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, greenhouse gas pollution must be halved by 2030, he said.

“We know we’re still a long way from where we need to be,” said Stiell.

This year’s inventory leads to another round of pledges for even tougher emissions cuts by telling nations the hard truth about how bad the situation is, Stiell said. The problem is not that countries know how bad it is, he said.

“It’s a lack of implementation,” Stiell said. “I don’t believe it’s a lack of knowledge. There has been report after report after report all saying the same thing, all with increasing urgency.”

After less than a year on the job, but years before that as a national negotiator, Stiell said he is “over the frustration. What drives me is the will to make a difference.”


Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.


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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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