On Monday, the Emirati leader of the COP28 climate talks, president Sultan Al Jaber, refrained from advocating for the complete phase-out of fossil fuels in an initial attempt to achieve consensus. This approach immediately faced criticism from Western powers and environmentalists, who had anticipated a historic turning point in the discussions.

The Emirati head of COP28 climate talks, president Sultan Al Jaber, stopped short of pushing for a phase-out of fossil fuels, on Monday, in a first bid for consensus. This drew immediate fire from Western powers and environmentalists, who had hoped for a historic turning point.

With hours to go before the official end to the 13-day UN summit in Dubai, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber released a new draft agreement. The agreement is aimed at bringing onboard the nearly 200 countries, which include Saudi Arabia and other producers, seeking to preserve their economic lifeblood.

After an earlier draft listed the landmark option of a “phase-out” of oil, gas and coal, the new text draft focuses on “reducing” their production and consumption in order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Jaber — whose role as president of the UAE national oil company has drawn suspicion from environmentalists — called his text a step forward and said he still sought “high ambition” on the fossil-fuel language.

Environmentalists said the text was woefully inefficient in checking warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — the goal blessed by the 2015 Paris accord to avoid the worst ravages of climate change, including worsening storms and droughts and rising sea levels.

Former US vice president Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change, said that “COP28 is now on the verge of complete failure.”

The draft, he said, “reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word.”

The text does not go so far as to demand actions on fossil fuels, only presenting measures that nations “could” take.

If the text aimed to win over the Saudis, it disappointed Western powers with the European Union, the United States, Germany and France all calling for stronger language.

“This text is insufficient. There are elements that are not acceptable as they are,” French negotiator Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.

The United States, while voicing appreciation for Emirati efforts, called for fossil fuel language to be “substantially strengthened”.

“We will talk as long as necessary and we will do our utmost as the European Union to arrive at what the world needs,” said EU climate chief Wopke Hoekstra.

The draft agreement says countries can take action that includes “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net-zero by, before, or around 2050 in keeping with the science”.

On coal, the dirtiest major form of energy, the text lists limitations on “new and unabated coal power” — meaning proceeding with potential projects that use new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

The text does list an option of “phasing out” of “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” that encourage “wasteful consumption”.

In a rare display of unity between rival powers, China and the United States, the world’s two largest emitters, have largely been cooperating, with veteran US negotiator John Kerry pushing for a success as he celebrated his 80th birthday.

Khalil Wakim, with AFP