Decoding the Climate Summit Conundrum: Unraveling the Dilemma of “Unabated Fossil Fuels”

by Anna

As the COP28 climate talks unfold against the backdrop of unprecedented global heatwaves, wildfires, and floods, negotiators grapple with a pivotal term that could shape the outcome of the most crucial climate negotiations in years: “unabated fossil fuels.”

In the face of a scathing UN assessment revealing the world’s failure to meet climate targets, discussions pivot around the imperative to abandon coal, oil, and gas in favor of cleaner energies. The negotiators explore options to expedite efforts to phase out “unabated fossil fuels” and achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century, with a particular emphasis on the rapid phase-out of unabated coal power this decade.


However, the crux of the matter lies in the ambiguity of the term “unabated.” Lisa Fischer, an analyst with the think tank E3G, notes that terms like unabated lack clear definitions. Unabated is generally understood as the absence of interventions to substantially reduce emissions. The UN IPCC scientific advisory body suggests interventions could include capturing at least 90 percent of carbon dioxide from power plants or up to 80 percent of methane leaked during energy production and transport.


The contentious point emerges in discussions about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies, championed by the fossil fuel industry and oil-rich nations like the host of COP28, the United Arab Emirates. While some advocate for the role of CCS in capturing emissions, others argue that the focus should be on rapidly transitioning to renewables to achieve short-term emission reduction targets.


COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, who leads the UAE’s national oil company ADNOC, emphasizes the need to phase out emissions rather than fossil fuels, a stance conflicting with nations advocating for a complete phase-out of oil, gas, and coal.


In the near term, the urgency to cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost half this decade aligns with the rapid transition to renewables. Critics argue that CCS has a limited role in this crucial period and should not distract from the immediate need to replace fossil fuels.

The High Ambition Coalition, including countries like France, Kenya, and Colombia, asserts that abatement technology has a minimal role in decarbonizing energy and should not be used to justify fossil fuel expansion.

Concerns also arise about the efficacy of large-scale CCS in preventing excess emissions, with an analysis by Climate Analytics suggesting potential drawbacks.

As the negotiations unfold, the debate over “unabated fossil fuels” underscores the need for a nuanced approach that balances technological solutions with the imperative to rapidly reduce reliance on fossil fuels to address the escalating climate crisis.

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