As COP28 nears finish, critics say proposal ‘doesn’t even come close’ to what’s needed on climate

Licypriya Kangujam protests against the use of fossil fuels on Monday during an event at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Negotiators from around the world haggled deep into the night to try to strike a deal to halt global warming at United Nations climate talks, with Western powers and vulnerable developing countries worried that a proposed text fell far short of goals to save the planet.

A new draft released Monday of what’s known as the global stocktake — the part of talks that assesses where the world is at with its climate goals and how it can reach them — called for countries to reduce “consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.”


The release triggered a frenzy of fine-tuning by government envoys and rapid analysis by advocacy groups, just hours before the planned late morning finish to the talks on Tuesday — even though many observers expect the finale to run over time, as is common at the annual U.N. talks.

Bangladesh climate envoy Saber Chowdhury said a revised text would be presented Tuesday morning that takes into account the many comments from participants.

“It’ll be new. To what extent it’s improved remains to be seen,” he said shortly after the session ended at around 2 a.m.

In a closed-door meeting late Monday, some country delegation chiefs needled COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber’s frequent calling of the goal to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times his “north star,” saying the president’s proposal misses that star.

“It is not enough to say 1.5, we have to do 1.5. We have to deliver accordingly,” Norway minister Espen Barth Eide said.

Some Pacific Island nations argued the text amounted to a death sentence.

The proposed text “doesn’t even come close to delivering 1.5 as a north star,” Tuvalu’s delegation chief Seve Paeniu said. “For us this is a matter of survival. We cannot put loopholes in our children’s futures.”

Small island nations are some of the most vulnerable places in a world of rising temperatures and seas. Final decisions by COPs have to be by consensus. Activists said they feared that potential objections from fossil fuel countries, such as Saudi Arabia, had watered down the text.

United States climate envoy John Kerry says the language on fossil fuels in the text “does not meet the test” of keeping 1.5 alive.

“I, like most of you here, refuse to be part of a charade” of not phasing out fossil fuels, Kerry said.

Kerry’s remarks received a round of applause from the room. But when he left the meeting, climate activists confronted Kerry, calling for more action, saying their future was at stake.

“Young voters like me who want to vote for Biden and who want to vote Democratic are not feeling that our voices are being heard,” said activist Elizabeth Morrison.

Zhao Yingmin, China’s vice minister for Ecology and Environment, said at the meeting that “the draft fails to address the concerns of developing countries on some key issues” and in particular the idea that greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025.

Saudi Arabia’s Noura Alissa said the deal “must work for all.”

“It must be relevant, it must make to sense to accelerate action for every single country in this room, not some over others,” she said.

Philda Nani Kereng of Botswana said her country “is a developing country … it’s still, you know, exploiting natural resources for economic development, for livelihood improvement, for job creation and so forth.”

Talking about what the outcome of the talks should be, she said “we are very careful to make sure that it’s not going to sort of stop us from developing our people.”

A combination of activists and delegation members lined the entry into the special late-evening meeting Monday of heads of delegations, with their arms raised in unity as delegations walked through, creating a tunnel-like effect. A few activists told delegates passing by: “You are our last hope. We count on you.”

In the 21-page document, the words oil and natural gas did not appear, and the word coal appeared twice. It also had a single mention of carbon capture, a technology touted by some to reduce emissions.

Activists said the text was written by the COP28 presidency, run by an Emirati oil company CEO — Al-Jaber — and pounced on its perceived shortcomings. It fell fall short of a widespread push to phase out fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal altogether.

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