COP28 failure means Australia shouldn't wait to phase out fossil fuels

December 14, 2023
COP28 protest in Sydney for climate action
COP28 protest for climate action in Gadi/Sydney. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Expectations among climate activists were never high for the United Nations climate change summit in the United Arab Emirates (COP28).

But the final text — a go-slow on fossil fuel phase-out — shows that climate deniers have subverted the summit’s goals. Oil company boss and COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber even used the summit to secure fossil fuel deals.

At least 2456 fossil fuel lobbyists attended the summit — nearly four times as many as last year.

“The lobbyists outnumber the delegations of every country other than Brazil and the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting the summit,” Democracy Now! reported on December 5.

The draft text of a climate deal that did not include “phasing out” fossil fuels was released on December 11, the second last day of the summit. Al-Jaber had previously made the absurd claim that there is “no science” behind such a measure.

The criticism was swift.

Cedric Schuster from the Alliance of Small Island States said: “We will not sign our death certificate. We cannot sign on to text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels.”

Former US Vice President Al Gore said this “obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word”.

To prevent COP28 from “being the most embarrassing and dismal failure in 28 years of international climate negotiations”, Gore said the final text must include “clear language on phasing out fossil fuels”. Anything else is a “massive step backwards” from where the world needs to be. He urged countries to “make sure the 1.5° C goal doesn’t die in Dubai”.

But leaders of imperialist fossil fuel exporters, including Australia, saw an opening. They could speak in favour of a fossil fuel phase-out, knowing it would not make the final text.

Climate change minister Chris Bowen even told a COP28 meeting that “fossil fuels have no ongoing role to play in our energy systems”.

Australia was not the only hypocrite.

Meena Raman of the Third World Network and Friends of the Earth Malaysia told Democracy Now! on December 12 that it was “quite outrageous” for “the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany, the European Union as a whole, one by one, [to stand] up to say that the fossil fuel phase-out language is not there, or it was insufficient and needs to be strengthened”.

She said Bowen and others are “pretend[ing] to be climate champions” while “continu[ing] to sign licenses for expansion and production of fossil fuels”.

Stephen Long of The Australia Institute described this as the “new face of climate denial”.

“Sure, the current Australian government isn’t so gauche as to deny the climate science,” he wrote, “but the federal government is supporting a fossil fuel expansion completely at odds with the scientific advice and findings”.

Australia is considering more than 100 new fossil fuel projects.

The summit’s final text called for a “transition away from fossil fuels”, not a “phase out”. The Alliance of Small Island States said it contains a “litany of loopholes”.

A binding international agreement which could guide the climate transition would be best. But COP was always voluntary, and the corporate polluters and their governments have enough influence to ensure that its goal of staying below 1.5°C can never be achieved at the speed the science and humanity require.

It is now clear that countries need to develop their own emergency plans to phase out fossil fuels. This would pressure other countries to follow suit.

This means building the people-power strong enough to force Labor to stop agreeing to new coal and gas mines and for an end to fossil fuels exports.

Green Left is committed to helping do this by exposing the lies and inspiring grassroots activists — who are the hope for real change.

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