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Climate summit in Dubai goes into overtime as bitter division over fossil fuels delays agreement

The global climate summit went into overtime on Tuesday with no deal on the meeting’s final agreement, and countries are bitterly divided over whether to call time on fossil fuels. Negotiators are scrambling last-ditch meetings to salvage more ambitious language to address the cause of the climate crisis.

The latest draft of the COP28 summit’s centerpiece agreement published Monday dropped previous references to phasing out fossil fuels, stoking anger and frustration among some nations and advocates. More than 100 countries support a phase-out of fossil fuels in some form.

Instead, the watered-down draft offers a list of actions that countries “could” take to reduce their planet-heating emissions, one of which is reducing the consumption and production of oil, coal and gas.

An ambitious deadline set by COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber to strike a deal on a package of agreements expired earlier Tuesday, the last day of the summit, and by 6 p.m. in Dubai the summit was officially past deadline.

The annual climate talks often run over, but COP28 has been particularly fraught, with criticism that oil interests have derailed the process.

The fossil fuel industry was given record access to the conference, a recent analysis showed. Al Jaber is presiding over the talks as the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company that he runs undergoes a major expansion in oil and gas production. He has consistently rejected criticisms of a conflict of interest and pledged to hold a transparent process.

The secretary-general of the oil-producing group OPEC, Haitham Al Ghais, called on members and allies last week to “proactively reject” any language that targeted reducing fossil fuel use, telling members to support language that focuses on “emissions” instead.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq were among the countries that did not want reference to a phase-out of fossil fuels in the text, Catherine Abreu, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit group Destination Zero, told reporters in Dubai. Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA said the country’s delegation to COP28 was “reaffirming” its rejection of a phase-out as well.

Climate advocate and former US Vice President Al Gore warned in a post on X Monday that the summit was “on the verge of complete failure,” pointing specifically to OPEC as part of the problem.

“The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word,” Gore said. “It is even worse than many had feared.”

COP28 hosts defend watered-down draft

The COP28 presidency fended of criticism over the draft Tuesday, saying it supported a “historic” deal that included some language on fossil fuels and aimed for “the highest ambition.”

“We are facing the most demanding COP agenda of all time,” said COP28 Director-General Ambassador Majid Al Suwaidi in a news conference.

“The text we released was a starting point for discussions,” he said, adding that the presidency did not show favoritism to any party.

The EU delegation Tuesday met with its allies in the High Ambition Coalition, which includes several island states, to try to align their next moves. They also held a discussion with UN Secretary General António Guterres.

EU Climate Action Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra told reporters after the meeting that there was “a supermajority” of countries at COP28 that wanted more ambition in the deal to ensure global warming doesn’t exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level, a critical threshold for the planet.

“We need to keep a 1.5 degree figure alive. It is what science demands and our kids deserve,” Hoekstra wrote in a post on X, along with a photo of him meeting with the High Ambition Coalition.

Several Australian media reports quoted Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen as saying the so-called Umbrella Group of countries — which includes Australia, the US, UK, Canada and Norway — would not sign the draft as it stands.

“The UK is working with all parties and will continue to push for an ambitious outcome at COP28 that keeps 1.5 degrees in reach,” the spokesperson said.

This is a developing story and it has been updated.

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