COP28 Climate Meeting: The Fossil Fuel Question


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Why in News?

  • Despite decades of climate change conferences, none of the decisions made during these gatherings has officially acknowledged the role of fossil fuels in global warming or the necessity to eliminate their use.
  • Fossil fuels have been the real issues which has often been overlooked and avoided in official discussions.

The COP Climate Meeting

  • The term ‘COP’ stands for Conference of the Parties, and it refers to the annual meetings held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
    • These conferences bring together representatives from countries around the world to discuss and negotiate international efforts to address climate change.
  • The UNFCCC was established in 1992 with the goal of addressing the global challenge of climate change and its impacts.
  • The COP meetings serve as the main decision-making body of the UNFCCC, providing a platform for countries to negotiate and make decisions on issues related to climate change.
  • The most well-known COP meeting is the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/KP).
    • The Kyoto Protocol (1997)resulted in an international treaty that set binding targets for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Subsequent COP meetings have led to important agreements, including the Paris Agreement in 2015, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Controversy Surrounding the COP28 Climate Meeting

  • In a video, Al Jaber, a UAE Minister, is heard stating that achieving the 1.5-degree Celsius target does not hinge on the elimination of fossil fuels.
  • He emphasises that there is no scientific evidence or scenario suggesting that a complete phase-out of fossil fuels is necessary to achieve the 1.5-degree target.
  • Al Jaber declared the 1.5-degree Celsius target as his "north star."
  • While acknowledging the inevitability and essential nature of a phase-down or phase-out of fossil fuels, he calls for a realistic, serious, and pragmatic approach to the issue.

Fossil Fuel Debate and Challenges in Climate Negotiations

  • Dominance of Fossil Fuels in Emissions
    • Fossil fuels, including oil, gas, coal, and their derivatives, contribute to at least 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The central argument is that substantial reductions in emissions cannot be achieved without significantly reducing the use of fossil fuels.
  • Unsuccessful Climate Negotiations
    • Influential countries in climate negotiations have been attempting to cut emissions without directly addressing the use of fossil fuels.
    • The debate centres around the challenge of reducing emissions without fundamentally altering the reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Focus on Relative Consumption and Efficiency
    • Previous efforts to cut emissions primarily concentrated on reducing relative energy consumption and enhancing energy efficiency.
    • Despite these efforts, global production of fossil fuels continues to rise, contributing to the difficulty in achieving climate targets.
  • Unachieved Climate Targets
    • None of the climate targets set in previous negotiations have been achieved.
    • Current targets also appear to be significantly challenging, with the latest projections indicating that ongoing actions by countries will only reduce annual emissions by 2% by 2030.

India’s Significant Role at COP27 (Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt)

  • Calling for the inclusion of a fossil fuel phase-out in the outcome of the meeting:
    • This move was in response to the inclusion of coal in the final outcome of COP26, which India sought to counter.
      • COP26 resulted in a vague mention of a phase-down of ‘unabated’ coal without a specific schedule.
      • This marked the first official mention of any fossil fuel in a COP decision.
  • India’s Effort to Modify the Language
    • India, with the support of influential countries like the United States and China, worked to change the term from 'phase-out' to 'phase-down.'
    • The meaning of terms like phase-out, phase-down, and unabated coal use was expected to be defined during negotiations, posing potential contentious issues.
      • However, the terms 'phase-out,' 'phase-down,' and 'unabated' coal use remained ambiguous, and their practical implications were to be defined through negotiations.
      • These terms, crucial for framing climate policies, were expected to be points of contention in discussions.
  • India Tried to Broaden the Scope to All Fossil Fuels
    • India argued at COP27 for a broader approach, advocating for the phase-down of all fossil fuels, not just singling out coal.
    • The move was a response to the perceived bias against coal, with oil and natural gas getting relatively less attention.
      • The EU, facing an energy crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine war, made the unusual declaration of labelling natural gas as "green" in specific uses.
      • This further highlighted the complexity and nuanced approach to different fossil fuels.

Backtracking by India on Initiative at COP28

  • Despite initial backing from the EU and the US, the Indian proposal for the phase-down of all fossil fuels was eventually thwarted in behind-the-scenes negotiations.
  • India, in COP28, does not plan to take the lead on this issue, indicating a more cautious approach.

Expected Outcome of COP28 Climate Meeting

  • Anticipation of Fossil Fuels' Entry at COP28
    • There is a strong indication that fossil fuels, a longstanding omission in climate negotiations, are likely to be introduced at COP28.
    • The pressure to address fossil fuels is intensified by the global community's insufficient progress toward achieving 2030 climate targets.
    • Sultan Al Jaber has extended an invitation to countries to submit their proposals on the phase-out of fossil fuels.
    • This move signals a shift in focus and a willingness to address the role of fossil fuels in the climate discourse.
  • Potential Mention of Fossil Fuel Phase-Down: COP28's final decisions might include a mention of the need to phase down fossil fuels, marking a potentially radical departure as it has remained unmentioned for three decades. 


  • The invitation for countries to submit proposals on fossil fuel phase-out indicates a proactive approach.
  • While a mention of the need to phase down fossil fuels is expected in the final decisions, determining specific measures and schedules is challenging and will require prolonged negotiations.
  • This potential inclusion marks a radical departure from the historical neglect of fossil fuels in climate discussions and underscores the evolving dynamics of global climate action.

Q1) What is UNFCCC?

UNFCCC stands for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCCC secretariat (UN Climate Change) is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. The ultimate goal of the Convention is the “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” within a timeframe that allows people and the planet to adapt and economies to develop sustainably. In joining the Convention, Parties acknowledge the existence of the threat of climate change and agree to undertake efforts to combat it.

Q2) What is the meaning of 'The Historical Responsibility?'

A bulk of the accumulated greenhouse gas emissions, the reason for global warming, have come from a group of about 40 rich and industrialised countries, usually referred to as Annex I countries in the 1992 UNFCCC. This historical responsibility has been the basis for the differentiated burden-sharing on developed and developing countries in the climate change framework.

Source: The Indian Express