Chris Bowen urges Cop28 to “phase out the use of fossil fuels” in energy systems while negotiations attempt to overcome a stalemate.
At the Cop28 summit, Chris Bowen, the climate change minister of Australia, has stated to representatives from almost 200 nations that the utilization of fossil fuels in energy systems must be discontinued.
The president of the Cop, Sultan Al Jaber, called for a majlis on Sunday to gather all countries and discuss points of disagreement, such as the gradual removal of fossil fuels. The majlis follows the traditional format of an elders’ conference in the United Arab Emirates.
The two-week conference only has one and a half days remaining for official negotiations before it ends on Tuesday morning.
During the summit, Bowen informed the majlis that a comprehensive evaluation of global stocks revealed that the world is not currently on course to limit heating to 1.5C. She emphasized the need for a response that prioritizes maintaining this target.
According to him, there must be a maximum level of global emissions reached by 2025, followed by a decrease of 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 in comparison to the levels in 2019. He also believes that renewable energy should be tripled by the year 2030. He stated that this goal should be taken into account in the final outcome.
We must confront this reality without hesitation: in order to maintain a 1.5C temperature increase, fossil fuels cannot continue to be a part of our energy systems – and I say this as the minister of climate and energy for one of the world’s leading fossil fuel exporting countries. We recognize and accept this truth because we also reside in the Pacific and do not want to witness our fellow island nations being submerged by rising sea levels.
Bowen stated that there were numerous possibilities for the language used during the discussions to convey the idea that fossil fuels are not a sustainable option. He also assured the president that they would work together to find a solution that allows for this message to be recorded in history.
He suggested the possibility of adding the term “unabated” to any discussions regarding the gradual elimination of fossil fuels. The term “unabated” is a contentious and vague concept in climate negotiations, typically interpreted as allowing the use of fossil fuels as long as their emissions are being minimized through carbon capture and storage, a technology that has not yet been proven to be economically feasible.
According to Bowen, discussing the reduction of fossil fuel usage in a deal should not be viewed as an excuse for countries to continue relying on them. He believes that our focus should not be solely on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, but rather on completely stopping their use in our energy systems. Abatement should serve as a last resort and safety measure, not as a reason to delay action or do nothing.
During an emotionally-charged meeting, Al Jaber requested that countries speak without relying on written notes or a pre-written speech.
Earlier, Diego Pacheco, the main representative of the Like Minded Group of Developing Countries (which consists of China, India, and Saudi Arabia), had accused the US, Norway, Australia, and Canada of being hypocritical for endorsing a plan to gradually eliminate fossil fuels while simultaneously planning to increase their own production.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized for hindering negotiations by opposing forceful language for phasing out fossil fuels. Instead, they are pushing for a mention of fossil fuel emissions. Additionally, there are discrepancies between affluent nations and newly developing economies like China regarding the extent of responsibility for reducing emissions and providing financial aid to at-risk countries.
Ralph Regenvanu, the Minister for Climate Change in Vanuatu, expressed support for the request made by Pacific and small island nations for a complete cessation of fossil fuel use and subsidies, as well as an immediate stop to any further expansion of the industry.
“There is significant resistance to including unabated in the proposal,” he explained. “If it is included, it must be clearly defined and have a specific time limit.”
Regenvanu stated that although he disagreed with Bowen’s use of the term “unabated”, his country was pleased with Australia’s stance at this Cop. He noted that it was a significant shift in position.
According to him, the main issue with Australia’s position is their significant exports of coal and gas. He urged countries to support a treaty for non-proliferation of fossil fuels, which would hold them accountable for the coal, gas, and oil they export, not just what they consume domestically.
The stance taken by Bowen regarding reduced use of fossil fuels was heavily condemned by advocates for addressing climate change.
According to Greenpeace’s Pacific advisor, Shiva Gounden, the minister had the chance to show empathy during the majlis, but instead was rude. Gounden stated, “He acted as if Australia is now the moral leader in climate justice, even though they are still approving new fossil fuel projects.”
Barry Traill, the director of Climate Solutions for Australia, stated that a significant portion of Bowen’s speech effectively and straightforwardly conveyed the need to eliminate fossil fuels. However, Traill found it frustrating that Bowen supported a term that could be manipulated by projects with questionable intentions, claiming they will clean up pollution after it has already been released into the atmosphere.
In addition to the future implications of fossil fuels, another significant issue discussed at the talks is the frustration of developing countries over the lack of assistance from wealthier nations in adapting to the consequences of the climate emergency.
The president was anticipated to create a preliminary draft of the agreement text on Sunday night in UAE time, with negotiations set to continue on Monday.