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Opec rails against fossil fuel phase out at Cop28 in leaked letters | Cop28

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Opec rails against fossil fuel phase out at Cop28 in leaked letters | Cop28


Oil cartel warns ‘pressure may reach a tipping point’ and that ‘politically motivated campaigns put our prosperity’ at risk

The Opec oil cartel has warned its member countries with “utmost urgency” that “pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences” at Cop28, in leaked letters seen by the Guardian.

The letters noted that a “fossil fuels phase out” remains on the negotiating table at the UN climate summit and urges the oil states to “proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy, ie fossil fuels, rather than emissions”.

The news agencies Bloomberg and Reuters also reported the news on Friday, saying multiple independent sources had confirmed the documents were genuine, and that Opec had declined to comment. The Guardian has not confirmed the authenticity of the documents and Opec did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

The letters suggest the depth of Opec’s fear that Cop28 could provide a turning point against oil and gas, which they say “put our people’s prosperity and future at risk”.

Identical letters dated 6 December and signed by Haitham al-Ghais, the Kuwaiti oil executive and Opec secretary general, were sent to the 13 members of Opec, which include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Nigeria. These countries own 80% of global oil reserves and produced about 40% of the world’s oil over the last decade.

“These letters show that fossil fuel interests are starting to realise that the writing is on the wall for dirty energy,” said Mohamed Adow, of the NGO and thinktank Power Shift Africa. “Climate change is killing poor people around the globe and these petrostates don’t want Cop28 to phase out fossil fuels because it will hurt their short-term profits. It’s shameful.

“The reality is, if the world is going to save itself, it cannot be held back by a small band of countries that control the world’s oil supply. As well as saving us from climate change, a renewable powered world is also one where energy is dispersed and democratised. Fossil fuels keep power in the hands of the few that happen to have them.”

The letter was also sent to the United Arab Emirates, another Opec member, which is hosting Cop28. More than 100 countries want the final Cop28 decision to call for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Such a move would be a strong signal that the end of the era of coal, oil and gas has arrived and would help drive the urgently needed cuts scientists have made clear are required.

Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are the overwhelming driver of the climate crisis. Emissions are still rising but must fall by almost half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 to have an even chance of keeping global heating to the internationally agreed 1.5C limit. Supercharged extreme weather is already claiming lives and livelihoods today and would rapidly worsen above 1.5C.

Identical letters were signed by Haitham al-Ghais, the Opec general secretary, and sent to member states. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

The letter was also sent to 10 Opec allies, known as Opec+ countries, and including Russia and Mexico. It said: “While Opec [and Opec+] countries are taking climate change seriously and have a proven record on climate actions, it would be unacceptable that politically motivated campaigns put our people’s prosperity and future at risk.”

The petrostates prefer to focus on emissions, rather than the fossil fuels themselves, saying that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology could stop the CO2 reaching the atmosphere.

However, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, told the Guardian recently that CCS technology will never scale up to cover the emissions of the oil and gas sector if they carry on with business as usual: “It’s a fantasy, an illusion.”

Heavy dependence on CCS to reach net zero targets around 2050 would also be “highly economically damaging”, costing at least $30tn more than a renewable energy route, according to a report published on 4 December by University of Oxford researchers.

The Guardian revealed on Sunday that Sultan Al Jaber, the Cop28 president and CEO of the UAE’s state oil company, said shortly before the summit that “there is no science out there that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C”, a statement rejected by many scientists.

Al Jaber fiercely defended his views at an emergency press conference a day later, saying: “I have said over and over the phase-down and the phase-out of fossil fuel is inevitable. In fact, it is essential.” He said his comments had been misinterpreted.

Katrin Ganswindt, at the German NGO Urgewald, said: “Opec’s plea is a desperate cry from an industry addicted to a one-track expansion business model that has no place in a 1.5C-aligned world. Countries should reject their proposition and deliver the historic step we have been waiting for: a speedy fossil fuel phase-out and a just transition to renewable energy without ifs and buts.”

“This is a desperate attempt to halt the global momentum towards phasing out fossil fuels. The world is no longer swayed by tactics of denial and misinformation. The voices demanding climate justice are growing increasingly more resounding, leaving no room for the fossil fuel industry to employ its underhand tactics to delay action,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.

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