ABU DHABI (BLOOMBERG) — An influential alliance including several European countries and Pacific island states backed the global phaseout of fossil fuels, potentially pitting them against China in what is set to be a central debate at this year’s COP28 climate summit.

The High Ambition Coalition — which counts the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Samoa, Vanuatu Austria and France among its members — called for a decline in fossil fuel production and use. The nations also said a decision at the summit should include ending both new coal production and the expansion of existing mines, as well as reducing methane emissions to near zero.

The U.S and members of the European Union have often clashed with developing countries — notably China — over the steps needed to curb climate change, as the latter group hasn’t had the benefit of more than a century of unfettered industrialisation. Washington didn’t sign a statement from the coalition.

Whether they can find common ground will determine the outcome of the upcoming United Nations’ Conference of the Parties, known as COP, in Dubai. A key component of the summit is the Global Stocktake, where countries tally how close they are to the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5C — and ideally chart what needs to be done to close the gap.

“Fossil fuels are at the root of this crisis,” the High Ambition Coalition said in a statement. “We must phase out all international public finance for fossil fuel development and power generation.”

The alliance also said governments must demand that oil, gas and coal producers publish “trackable transition plans that set out how they’ll cut emissions by 2025, and reach net zero by 2050.”

Crucially, the countries also laid out a narrow vision for how so-called abatement technologies, like carbon capture and storage, should be used during the transition. They only have “a minor role to play” and should “not be used to delay climate action,” the coalition said. The language is stronger than the EU’s negotiation mandate agreed earlier this month.

COP28 takes place from 30 November to 12 December, and the run-up has already been marred by growing geopolitical tensions, with the Israel-Hamas war coming on top of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Climate negotiations have also stalled amid disputes over the extent to which fossil fuels should be phased out and how to establish a fund to cover the losses and damages caused by increasingly extreme weather.

Talks on the latter will enter a fifth round later this week amid hopes of a breakthrough before the summit. Eamon Ryan, Ireland’s climate minister who negotiates so-called Loss and Damage for the EU, said that progress had been made during a pre-COP meeting of ministers this week and that negotiators were 85 percent of the way to securing a deal.

“There’s not a huge ideological divide,” Ryan said in an interview. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t get a broadly agreed text.”

The world needs to reach peak emissions by 2025 and reduce them by nearly 45 percent by the end of the decade in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The International Energy Agency has said global demand for oil will reach its maximum this decade, but that doesn’t mean a rapid plunge in consumption is imminent.

Phasing out fossil fuels is “the single most important course correction we can make,” said Ralph Regenvanu, climate minister for Vanuatu, a volcanic atoll in the South Pacific. But “I feel pessimistic about the Global Stocktake.”

“The High Ambition Coalition is living up to its name.  Our statement emphasises that we are far off track from meeting the Goals we set for ourselves in the Paris Agreement. Fossil Fuels remain the unaddressed elephant in the room, and the HAC is united in its desire to see the 2023 Global Stocktake acknowledge that Fossil fuels are the root of the climate crisis, and that the only viable course correction is one that accelerates the transition away from fossil fuels, in line with the IPCC’s 1.5C pathway.  

“The statement is clear that abatement is of limited value right now, and in no way should be used as an excuse to delay action. The Statement also is balanced by not forgetting that both Adaptation and Loss & Damage are also a part of Paris commitments, and so shall feature prominently in the conclusion of the stocktake this year.  With this statement, Vanuatu is proud to be a member of this group of high-ambition countries and will work tirelessly to bring other Parties along with us for a successful outcome at COP28,” he said…. PACNEWS

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