COP28

Without fairness, fossil fuel phaseout flounders at COP28

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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Without fairness, fossil fuel phaseout flounders at COP28

PROTEST. A climate activist arranges artwork against fossil fuels at Expo City Dubai during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 12, 2023.

Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Some developing countries are reluctant to back a phaseout of fossil fuels without clear guarantees of international support

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Phasing out fossil fuels around the world is unlikely to happen – or even win backing from all governments – without far more finance and clean technology on offer for developing countries, officials and analysts said at the COP28 United Nations climate summit.

As the prospect of the talks agreeing to a fossil fuel phaseout receded – after strong pushback from oil- and gas-producing nations in the Middle East and beyond – some African, Asian, and Latin American countries emphasized they could not embark on such a journey without clear guarantees of international support.

On Tuesday, December 12, at COP28 in Dubai, Uganda’s Minister of Energy and Minerals Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu said her country’s new green energy transition plan will require investment of $70 billion.

But developing its fossil fuels – as it is doing with the East African Crude Oil Pipeline – would bring in $47 billion, she said.

“Countries like Uganda…must be allowed to develop her natural resources in order to get money to transit from darkness to light,” she said, arguing fossil fuel expansion and renewable expansion needed to go hand in hand.

Iziaq Kunle Salako, minister of state for environment in Nigeria – one of Africa’s biggest oil producers but also a country with an energy transition plan – said asking his nation to phase out fossil fuels without the finance to do so was “like asking us to stop breathing without life support.”

Nigeria plans to triple its renewable energy capacity as part of its national plan to become carbon-neutral by 2060, he noted, but that will require financial resources and technology transfer, as well as building local capacity.

Africa has received only 2% of global investments in renewable energy over the last two decades, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

At the Africa Climate Summit in September, COP28 host nation the United Arab Emirates announced a finance initiative to provide $4.5 billion in public, private, and development capital to help unlock Africa’s clean energy potential and close the gap in energy access by developing and building infrastructure, power generation, and distribution networks.

Achim Steiner, the head of the United Nations Development Programme, noted that Kenya’s president William Ruto had told the Africa summit the continent needed to go green before industrializing.

But to make that happen, global support is needed to lower the cost of the clean energy transition and make it feasible “on a massive scale” by de-risking investment and addressing financing constraints, Steiner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Dubai.

Developing countries, he explained, are being asked “to make a major pivot toward cleaner energy infrastructure at the worst possible moment when they’re struggling after COVID and [with] the global economic situation.”

Many are saddled with high debt levels and high interest rates, squeezing budgets for essential services like health and education, he said.

“And then you want them to make a decision that essentially asks them to go against the economics of today to meet the climate change objectives of tomorrow,” he said.

African countries need far more international investment to help them leapfrog fossil fuels and lead on renewables, he said.

“Otherwise we are forcing Africa by default to listen to those who want to sell them coal-fired power plants and tell them that it’s their oil and gas reserves that will drive the continent,” he warned.

Rich producers move first?

The reluctance of some developing countries to eschew coal, oil, and gas for clean energy without new support has played out at COP, analysts said, with countries from Bolivia to India pushing back against a phaseout.

Amos Wemanya, senior advisor on renewable energy and just transitions with Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, said Africa’s fossil fuel exploitation so far had not led to prosperity for the majority of its people.

But, he added, countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mozambique should not be pressured to phase out fossil fuels before far wealthier producers such as Canada or Norway.

“We are expecting rich countries that developed on the back of fossil fuels to be able to phase out fast and [also] support African countries to be able to phase out,” he said.

African countries have recently developed an ambitious plan to increase renewables capacity from 56 gigawatts to at least 300 GW by 2030 – but it needs support, he added.

At the COP28 climate talks, Kenya – which already gets most of its energy from renewables – joined the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance of 24 countries.

It received an initial grant of $1 million, as did Colombia, to plan for a just, managed, and orderly transition away from oil and gas dependency.

Colombia also announced, together with Kenya and France, an expert review on debt, climate, and nature, looking at reforms to ensure developing countries can meet their debt obligations even as they seek to increase green investment and free up more resources for climate action.

And separately at COP28, Colombia said it would formally join a 12-strong bloc of states seeking to negotiate a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Firmer finance needed

Observers at the COP28 climate talks, which have run into overtime, said a final deal that involves all countries shifting away from fossil fuels would need stronger language on finance to reassure developing nations they would not be expected to go it alone or face a huge funding shortfall.

The latest draft noted that increasing grants and cheap loans from wealthier countries “remains critical to support developing countries, particularly as they transition in a just and equitable manner.”

It also recognized the importance of having “appropriate fiscal space” for climate action.

But the draft stopped short of making firm promises or setting new numeral targets to increase climate finance. Such targets are not expected to be agreed until the end of 2024.

Neither did it include a specific commitment for wealthy producers of fossil fuels, such as Britain and the United States, to move first in reducing fossil fuel production, as many experts have said is necessary.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday, December 11, that a central aspect of success at COP28 should be to reach consensus “on the need to phase out fossil fuels.”

“That doesn’t mean that all countries must phase out fossil fuels at the same time,” he noted.

Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a youth activist from the Philippines, which is dependent on coal and is exploiting its gas reserves despite having rich renewable energy resources, said wealthier countries should first cut their own fossil fuel production and should provide finance for clean energy in developing nations.

Right now, “Global North countries are basically completely shrugging off their accountability and their historical responsibility to address the climate crisis,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Harjeet Singh, global engagement director for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said oil- and gas-rich developing countries like Colombia and Timor Leste had taken “a bold step” in declaring they will move away from fossil fuels.

“But this process is not providing sufficient support. Their voices are not being heard,” he said. – Rappler.com

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