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Briefing date 29.11.2023
COP28 summit: Future of fossil fuels centre stage at climate talks

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Climate and energy news.

COP28 summit: Future of fossil fuels centre stage at climate talks
Reuters Read Article

With COP28 about to kick off in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Reuters explains that among the key decisions that nations must make will be “whether to agree, for the first time, to gradually ‘phase out’ global consumption of fossil fuels and replace them with sources like solar, wind and others”. The article says the UAE conference host, backed by other major oil producers, “hopes to sell the vision of a low-carbon future that includes, not shuns, fossil fuels”. The Financial Times says that, for many politicians, business leaders and civic organisations, “the measure of the summit’s success” will come down to the single issue of the fossil fuel phaseout. It cites the so-called “High Ambition Coalition”, which includes France, Spain and Kenya, as a group calling for a full fossil-fuel phaseout. Incoming COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, who is also the chief executive of state-owned oil company Adnoc, says an “unprecedented outcome” that would keep alive hopes of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5C is within reach, according to the Guardian. In an interview ahead of the summit, he tells the newspaper that a “robust roadmap” of emissions cuts by 2030, in line with scientific advice, could be agreed. This comes as the Independent reports that “leading climate figures”, including UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, have “reacted with horror to news that the UAE has been allegedly planning to leverage the upcoming UN climate summit for new oil and gas deals”. Upstream Online reports on a statement by Opec, an oil-producing group of nations, responding to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that calls for a major transition away from fossil fuels within the oil-and-gas industry. Opec says the report aims to “vilify” the sector while ignoring efforts to secure energy supplies for global economies, the article states.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has a piece summarising the state of play going into the event. It states that, according to experts, “the world is heading for considerably less warming than projected a decade ago, but that good news is overwhelmed by much more pain from current climate change than scientists anticipated”. Reuters summarises the various UN reports that have been released ahead of the COP, stating that they collectively show the world is “far behind” in the “climate fight”. Ahead of the summit, the i newspaper cites climate scientists saying that “Britain could regularly experience 40C heatwaves and run out of food if the world fails to meet its environmental targets”. New Scientist asks if the world could “finally agree to ditch fossil fuels” at COP28. The Financial Times has a piece on “what to expect” at COP28, running through key negotiation topics such as the global stocktake and the loss-and-damage fund. The Times has an article titled: “What is Cop28 in Dubai and what’s on the agenda?”

Separately, the Guardian reports that most companies sponsoring COP28, including accountancy firm EY, oilfield services company Baker Hughes and Bank of America, are not committed to cutting their emissions in line with globally recognised net-zero targets. Meanwhile, a COP28 advisory panel has recommended “increasing taxes on polluting activities and cutting fossil fuel subsidies” in order to generate trillions of dollars to tackle climate change, according to Reuters.

As Dubai prepares for COP28, some world leaders signal they won't attend climate talks
Associated Press Read Article

The Associated Press reports that several world leaders including US president Joe Biden have signalled they will not be attending the negotiations “that come during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war roiling the wider Middle East”. It notes that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not attend and neither will Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, despite receiving an invitation. (The Independent has an article in which it speaks to survivors of chemical weapons attacks in Syria and relatives of those “disappeared” by the Assad regime, in which they criticise the decision to allow him to attend COP28.) Many news outlets, including the Independent, report that Pope Francis – “an outspoken advocate for climate action” – has cancelled his trip to COP28 “on doctor’s orders” after being treated for lung inflammation. Bloomberg reports that US vice president Kamala Harris will attend. Meanwhile, Axios says the US government is facing criticism from environmental groups over a $3.4m auction of oil-and-gas drilling rights in Wyoming as COP28 begins. The New York Times has an article about Kenyan president William Ruto, who it says is drawing attention globally as a “climate champion” but faces “domestic discontent over rising food and fuel prices”. The Daily Mirror reports that Prince William has “warned of the terrifying effects of climate change to the African continent”.

Meanwhile, in a statement ahead of today’s funeral (which will be streamed online) of the late UK and EU climate negotiator Pete Betts, climate envoys from almost 100 countries called on their fellow COP28 delegates to deliver a successful UN summit in Dubai in his memory, according to the Financial Times.

UK: Rishi Sunak gives boost to nature ahead of COP28 climate summit
Daily Express Read Article

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce a new package of nature-related measures to coincide with COP28, including a new national park, a strategy on UK rainforests and 34 new landscape recovery projects with farmers, according to the Daily Express. It quotes Sunak saying: “As I head to COP28, we are reasserting the UK’s leading role in promoting our iconic landscapes and keeping nature at the centre of our action to tackle climate change.” (Sunak has written an article for the Daily Telegraph – see the Comment section below.) BBC News says the search for a new national park in England could cover the Chilterns, the Cotswolds or Dorset, noting that the package marks a response to a 2019 review that criticised how protected landscapes were managed and funded across the country. According to the Daily Telegraph, Sunak’s new “green” policies will also include new powers to legally demand consultations on any proposed tree fellings. The Guardian notes that environmental groups have responded to the package with scepticism, stating that it amounts to “greenwashing” and an attempt to “reset” Sunak’s reputation after his recent rollback of net-zero policies. The Independent also reports on criticism of the schemes, both from the opposition Labour party and from the general secretary of the Prospect trade union, Mike Clancy, who says “bold-sounding initiatives can’t hide the true state of our rivers, shorelines and natural landscapes”.  Separately, the Guardian has a piece titled: “10 ways the climate crisis and nature loss are linked.” 

The Guardian also reports on plans being considered by the government that could require housebuilders to look after trees they have planted in order to meet planting targets. This is in response to concerns from woodland experts, who have warned that “many trees are dying soon after being planted, as inappropriate species are chosen or they are placed too close together, or they are abandoned and not watered properly”.

Separately, the Times reports that former prime minister Theresa May has taken aim at the government, stating that the UK should be pursuing a phaseout of fossil fuels rather than approving oil and gas licences. The Independent reports that the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs has concluded that the government’s “mixed messages” on climate action “risks stalling the financial sector’s net-zero progress”. In Scotland, BBC News reports that the Scottish government has pushed back its plan to begin phasing out fossil fuel boilers in 2025 by “at least three years” to “2028 at the earliest”.

Finally, BBC News reports that discounts will be offered to some households to use less electricity at peak times on Wednesday, as part of the so-called demand flexibility service, “in a bid to ease demand amid the cold weather snap”. (See Carbon Brief’s new Q&A.)

Energy efficiency must double in pace by 2030 to hit climate goals, IEA says
Reuters Read Article

Nations need to double the pace of measures to improve energy efficiency if they are to meet global climate targets, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has been covered by Reuters. Improvements, such as switching to LED lightbulbs and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, led to energy being used 1.3% more efficiently this year, the article notes. However, the IEA says efficiency must more than double from that level to 4% a year in order to meet targets under the Paris Agreement, the newswire continues. The Guardian notes that, according to the IEA report, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “marked a turning point for Europe’s gas consumption, which is expected to fall again this year as homes and firms embrace efficiency upgrades and heat pumps”. It adds that the developed economies across the continent reduced their gas use by 15% in 2022 after Russia cut off gas flows. 

In a separate story, the Financial Times reports that more than one-fifth of Russia’s liquefied “natural” gas (LNG) reaching Europe is subsequently reshipped to other parts of the world. The newspaper notes that this practice “boosts Moscow’s revenues despite the EU’s efforts to curb them in response to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine”. Politico says the latest round of EU sanctions on Russia will include no new measures for Russian LNG, the global sale of fuel refined from Russian crude oil by third countries or Russian nuclear power deals.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that IEA executive director Fatih Birol has said the world should respond to the challenges of the energy crisis and climate change with a “second wave” of nuclear power plant construction, similar to the one carried out in response to the global oil crisis in the 1970s.

China set to boost dominance in Asia renewable energy, report says
Nikkei Asia Read Article

China will gain “dominance in renewable energy markets across developing Asian countries” as it shifts away from developing coal power overseas, according to analysis by consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, Nikkei Asia reports. The outlet quotes Alex Whitworth, head of Asia-Pacific power and renewables research at Wood Mackenzie, who says “many of the developing countries in the Belt and Road…are only able to afford renewables because of the low costs of the equipment and technology as it’s coming out of China and that is not available from any other countries”. Covering the same report, Recharge News says that Wood Mackenzie estimates China is “on target to reach 230 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar installations this year”, which is more than double the number of US and European installations combined. Meanwhile, state news broadcaster CGTN covers a report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), which finds that China’s clean-energy investments, electrification, building sector coal use and other indicators are “on track” for meeting its climate goals, although lag in other areas means that overall the country needs to do more to “start reducing emissions at the rates required in climate transition pathways”.

Elsewhere, economic news outlet Jiemian reports that China “will face international expectations and pressures” during negotiations over the global stocktake at COP28. It quotes Yuan Ying, chief China representative at Greenpeace, as saying that climate cooperation with the US and EU is an “important factor that can influence China’s attitude and degree of willingness on the negotiation process”. A comment piece in the state newspaper China Daily writes that the Sunnylands statement “showcases [the US and China’s] commitment to engage in dialogue and collaboration on climate issues” and will “inject confidence and vitality into global climate cooperation”. A commentary in the state-supporting Global Times argues that “Western efforts to exert pressure on others and pass the buck appear to be ramping up” and that “the world needs more actual climate actions than geopolitical power plays”. Meanwhile, a comment piece by David Fickling for Bloomberg says that China “now consumes more energy and generates more pollution per person than most countries in western Europe” and should “accept that it is now a rich country, and behave accordingly”. Finally, the Diplomat says that the US and China climate envoys “may be sitting on opposite sides of the negotiating table” at COP28 and that, given that this will be his final COP, “many observers will be closely watching how Xie Zhenhua will finesse his COP swan song”.

Climate and energy comment.

The Guardian view on betting the planet: a big oil producer presiding over COP28 is a risk
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

A Guardian editorial highlights the issues resulting from Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of UAE’s state oil company, presiding over UN climate talks at COP28. “It was already doubtful that Mr Al Jaber was fit to lead global climate negotiations while responsible for planet-wrecking activities. This week’s revelations that he planned to lobby on oil and gas deals during meetings with foreign governments ahead of COP28 further damage his credibility as an honest broker in climate negotiations,” it says. In order to secure a successful outcome at the negotiations, Al Jaber needs a quid pro quo, where the global south agrees not to stall – or sink – talks if the global north is held accountable for its fossil fuel-driven growth”, according to the newspaper.

Meanwhile. William Hague, former leader of the UK Conservative party, writes in the Times that UAE “would be well-advised not to use the occasion to make oil and gas deals”, as BBC News reported it was planning to this week. He also praises the nation, stating that “UAE is also bursting with companies working on renewable energy and even net-zero towns and cities. In many ways it is, as the investment minister Dominic Johnson observed at the weekend, ‘a first-class and extremely well-run country’”.

Financial Times chief economics commentator Martin Wolf has an article titled: “The good and bad news on climate change.” He lays out why it is policymakers that are the biggest obstacle to the transition away from fossil fuels and towards low-carbon energy sources. He says there are political obstacles that are “above all, distributional”, which high-income nations needing to “help the poorer ones transition to a different path now”. He concludes: “Will COP28 accelerate the shift to clean energy? The answer depends heavily on how these distributional difficulties — both global and domestic — are dealt with. The energy transition has, indeed, become more feasible and cheaper than one used to think. That offers an opportunity. Yet costs are still to be borne. The negotiations will only succeed if the countries and the people with broader shoulders are prepared to do so.” Finally, Navroz Dubash, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in India, has an article for the Hindu in which he “unpacks” the upcoming summit.

The anger over the Sycamore Gap tree shows us why we must halt decline in nature
Rishi Sunak, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has authored a piece for the Daily Telegraph in which he trumpets his new raft of proposals to “not just to halt the decline in nature, but to restore it and improve access to it right across the country”. He explains that “we know that you can’t tackle climate change without nature”, pointing out that when the UK hosted COP26 in 2021, “we put nature into the centre of the climate debate for the first time”. Sunak adds that “later this week, I will travel to this year’s climate conference in the United Arab Emirates determined to once again champion nature”.

Separately, Josh Self, editor of, writes about his doubts that the opposition Labour party can follow through with its pledge to spend £28bn annually on climate measures if they win the next election. However, he notes that retaining shadow net-zero secretary Ed Miliband in the shadow cabinet “could be viewed as [Labour leader Keir] Starmer doubling down on his green-energy ambitions”.

New climate research.

Ocean warming drives rapid dynamic activation of marine-terminating glacier on the west Antarctic Peninsula
Nature Communications Read Article

New research quantifies the “rapid increase in speed and collapse” of the Cadman glacier in the west Antarctic Peninsula. Using satellite observations, the researchers find that ice speed increased by 94% between November 2018 and December 2019, while ice discharge increased by 0.52bn tonnes per year and the front of the glacier retreated by 8km. These changes were “concurrent with a positive temperature anomaly in the upper ocean, where a 400-metre deep channel allowed warm water to reach Cadman glacier”, the study says. The findings highlight how “warm ocean water can cause the rapid onset of dynamic imbalance and increased ice discharge from glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula”, the authors conclude.

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