DUTY OF CARE OP-ED
Tensions over fossil fuel phase-outs increase risk of climate overshoot
Climate overshoot is no longer a remote possibility. The Global Carbon Project says there is a 50% chance of surpassing 1.5°C in the next seven years.
COP28 concluded with the so-called UAE Consensus, the highest-profile part of which is a call for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”.
Although it’s considered a step forward, this falls short of calls for a complete phase-out of oil, gas and coal, including the recommendation we – members of the Climate Overshoot Commission – made for governments to decide on a phase-out in production and consumption of fossil fuels, and accelerate their trajectories to this end in a differentiated way for industrialised and other countries.
The phase-out of fossil fuels is necessary to avoid climate catastrophe, but fossil fuel producers and large economies worried about negative consequences for industry have resisted a phase-out for years. These worries are understandable and can be addressed in constructive ways, yet they are routinely stoked by a fossil fuel industry more concerned with its financial interests than with the devastating impacts of global warming.
Unfortunately, genuine disagreements stemming from different national interests, priorities and circumstances are resulting in growing and worrisome tensions between developed and developing economies.
Such tensions often centre on debate over moral and historical responsibility. Tragically, those countries that have emitted the least are those who suffer the most devastating consequences of climate change. Worse, they are suffering these consequences while their action space is limited by the confrontation of powerful global players.
We worry about these divides, and about how they might play out if the world finds itself in an overshoot scenario of exceeding 1.5°C. Over the past two years we have worked to devise a “CARE Agenda” addressing fossil fuels and many other issues that were raised at COP28.
Rich countries should eventually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit to create space for poorer countries to exploit fossil fuels in a limited, sustainable way.
Based on Cutting emissions, Adapting to climate change, Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and carefully Exploring solar radiation modification, our CARE Agenda takes into account our regional, economic, social, cultural, gender and other differences to build consensual responses to the climate crisis.
These responses have potentially useful roles in resolving international political differences over climate. For example, one criticism of the fossil fuel “transition” statement agreed to at COP28 is that it fails to differentiate according to countries’ needs and levels of development – in plain language, rich countries should lead the way.
Read more in Daily Maverick: COP28 hub
That is precisely what we call for in our proposal for fossil fuel phase-out. Indeed, we go further: Rich countries should eventually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit to create space for poorer countries to exploit fossil fuels in a limited, sustainable way. Such a proposal might have helped move the UAE Consensus towards a firmer stance on fossil fuels.
Climate overshoot is no longer a remote possibility. According to the Global Carbon Project, there is a 50% chance of surpassing 1.5°C in the next seven years.
Bringing the fossil fuel era to an end, embracing renewables and energy efficiency, and investing in technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere are urgent tasks given our limited time for determined, collaborative and inclusive climate action. DM
The authors are all members of the Climate Overshoot Commission.
Pascal Lamy is former director-general of the World Trade Organization; Kim Campbell is former prime minister of Canada; Anote Tong is former president of Kiribati; Hina Rabbani Khar is former minister of foreign affairs of Pakistan; Xue Lan is Cheung Kong Chair Distinguished Professor and dean of Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University; Frances Beinecke is president emeritus of the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Arancha Gonzalez Laya is former minister of foreign affairs of Spain.