Oil states are hitting the panic button after a proposal to end the fossil fuel era gathered unprecedented support at the current UN climate talks, according to veteran observers of the talks.
A push to “phase out” fossil fuels has gathered at COP28 in Dubai as never before in the nearly 30-year history of such talks.
But the push has widened a rift between at least 80 countries that support such a proposal, including vulnerable states like Samoa, and oil and gas-producing nations like Saudi Arabia and Russia, as well as some developing economies.
The unprecedented support for a fossil fuel phase-out appeared to spook the powerful oil cartel OPEC, whose 13 members include Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Nigeria.
A letter from its leader urging members to reject language targeting fossil fuels sent shockwaves through the COP28 summit when it was leaked last night.
The letter dated Wednesday, December 6, sent by Secretary-General Haitham Al Ghais, said “the undue and disproportionate pressure on fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences”.
Fossil fuels are responsible for about 75% of climate change, but still provide about 80% of the world’s energy.
‘They are scared’
The OPEC letter “suggests a tinge of panic,” said Alden Meyer, of the E3G think tank.
Former Irish president Mary Robinson said: “They are scared. I think they are worried.”
Mrs Robinson is now co-chair of the retired leadership group The Elders and a prominent climate campaigner.
She said the fact that OPEC is scared “gives me hope”.
Tina Stege, climate envoy for the vulnerable Marshall Islands in the Pacific, who also chairs the High Ambition Coalition group of countries at the talks, said: “Nothing puts the prosperity and future of all people on earth at risk, including all citizens of OPEC countries, with greater risk than fossil fuels… which are at the root of this crisis.”
The goal of limiting warming to 1.5C is “non-negotiable, and it means an end to fossil fuels,” she added.
Pressure on the COP president, Emirati Sultan Al Jaber, has now intensified, with his country an OPEC member but bound by his COP role to find consensus and progress on climate action.
Saudi Arabia and Russia are pushing for carbon capture
In a statement to Reuters, OPEC Secretary-General Haitham Al Ghais declined to comment on the leaked letter, but said OPEC wanted to keep the summit’s focus on reducing global warming emissions and away from their most important sources of oil and gas.
“The world requires major investments in all energies, including hydrocarbons,” he said. “Energy transitions must be fair, just and inclusive.”
Saudi Arabia and Russia want the summit to focus on emissions from burning fossil fuels, rather than the fuels themselves.
Saudi Arabia has led a push to use expensive technology to capture emissions from burning fuels and store them underground.
But such “carbon capture” projects have proven extremely difficult to get off the ground or scale up.
The UN’s climate science panel, IPCC, says that a small amount of carbon capture technology will be needed to get the world to zero emissions, but cannot take the place of reducing the use of fossil fuels worldwide.
The deadlock over COP29 finally broke
The summit breathed a small sigh of relief at the news that the deadlock over who will host next year’s COP29 summit had finally been broken.
Azerbaijan said it had reached a late deal with long-time adversary Armenia over its bid. While some diplomats said other countries including Russia were expected to back Baku’s bid, there was no official confirmation from Moscow on Friday.
Russia had also blocked bids from EU members such as Bulgaria in apparent retaliation for sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Different regions of the world take turns hosting a COP summit, with Eastern Europe next.