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The Future of Fossil Fuels in the Spotlight at COP28 Climate Summit

The debate about the future of fossil fuels is expected to take center stage at the COP28 climate summit starting in Dubai on Thursday.

While the UN and environmental organizations are pushing for language in the final statement to include a timeline on the phase-out of fossil fuels, some of the biggest carbon emitters, including China and India, which continue to rely on coal and boost its production and use, are unlikely to endorse a phase-out of fossil fuels.  

World Divided

The world continues to be divided over the role of fossil fuels and how fast they should be phased down or phased out.

Several developed countries and small developing island nations that have felt the worst impacts of climate change are calling for accelerating "the transition away from fossil fuels," which, they say, "are at the root of this crisis." Those countries include France, Austria, the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Environmentalists call for urgent action and adoption of texts for a complete phase-out of fossil fuels, while the COP28 President, Sultan Al Jaber - group CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) - calls on the world to unite on climate action and on the oil and gas industry to show that it could be part of the solution, not the problem, in the energy transition. 

"This industry can and must help drive the solutions. For too long, this industry has been viewed as part of the problem, that it's not doing enough and in some cases even blocking progress," Al Jaber said at the ADIPEC energy conference last month. 

Al Jaber's presidency of COP28 has stirred controversy, too. He is the first CEO designated to be president of any climate summit so far. But he is chief executive of the national oil company of OPEC's third-largest producer, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Related: Rolls-Royce Skeptical on the Future of Hydrogen Planes

Meanwhile, as many as 131 companies representing nearly $1 trillion in global annual revenue are urging governments to set targets and timelines for the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels.

Ahead of COP28, companies representing $987 billion in global annual revenue, including AstraZeneca, Ikea, Bayer, Iberdrola, Heineken, Danone, Ørsted, Volvo Cars, SAP, and Unilever, wrote a letter to the Heads of State, calling on "all Parties attending COP28 in Dubai to seek outcomes that will lay the groundwork to transform the global energy system towards a full phase-out of unabated fossil fuels and halve emissions this decade."

Environmental and human rights campaigners are even more vocal.

"Leaders at COP28 must defy the fossil fuel lobbyists and steer us away from a deepening climate and human rights catastrophe," Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said ahead of the participation at the conference."The only sure way to avert this calamity is for states at COP28 to agree on rapidly ending the production and use of fossil fuels, helping those worst affected by climate change to recover from loss and damage, and accelerating a just transition to renewable energy."

Greenpeace said on the eve of the summit, "The question is no longer how but when. Those serious about a livable planet have the tools needed to deliver the climate action needed: COP28 must agree to end the fossil fuel era."

According to Greenpeace, "Solutions are now here, bigger and cheaper than ever before, ready to replace fossil fuels and bring us greater security." 

"But it won't happen fast enough unless governments regulate oil, coal and gas out of the way."

Many governments and the fossil fuel industry beg to differ.


Days after the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that the oil and gas industry faces "a moment of truth" in choosing between fueling climate change and becoming a part of the solution, OPEC criticized the agency for vilifying the industry and for playing down energy security and affordability.

Last week, the IEA published a report saying that a "moment of truth" is coming for the oil and gas industry as most companies are watching the energy transition from the sidelines, with oil and gas producers accounting for only 1% of total clean energy investment globally.  

"The manner in which the IEA has unfortunately used its social media platforms in recent days to criticize and instruct the oil and gas industry is undiplomatic to say the least," OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais said.

"The truth that needs to be spoken is simple and clear to those who wish to see it. It is that the energy challenges before us are enormous and complex and cannot be limited to one binary question," Al Ghais added.

The debate between the "leave it in the ground" camp vs the energy security and affordability camp will continue on various fronts with various participants at COP28.  

"On the fossil fuel front, we expect more guidance on the topic of unabated versus abated fossil fuels. This could have important consequences for the design of transition pathways for sectors and individual companies," ING economists and researchers wrote in a note on Monday.

James Henderson, a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, wrote in Energy Intelligence on the expectations about the climate summit,

"This debate is likely to rage throughout the COP negotiations, but the overall sense is that the final statement from the conference will include a commitment to the phase-out of all unabated fuels."

However, "achievement of the four main goals set out by COP President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber; to fast track the transition away from fossil fuels; to transform climate finance; to focus on the role of people and nature in the transition; and to ensure inclusivity for all participants, may be a struggle," Henderson wrote in an OIES energy comment this month.     

By Tsvetana Paraskova for

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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.  More