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An oil field in Kazakhstan: Will an agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference fail?


Turar Kazangapov / REUTERS

Are fossil fuels on the chopping block or not? That's what countries are wrestling with at the World Climate Conference in Dubai, which ends on Tuesday. Headwinds are coming mainly from oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia. The strength of the resistance is now evident in a letter to the OPEC states.

The Secretary-General of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Haitham Al-Ghais, warns in the letter that pressure to target fossil fuels is increasing. There is talk of "politically motivated campaigns" against oil-rich countries "that threaten the prosperity and future of our people."

"The undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels could reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences," it said. Therefore, any agreement at the World Climate Conference that would affect the further production and sale of oil, gas and coal should be prevented.

According to media reports, the letter, which SPIEGEL has obtained, was sent to the leading ministers of all 13 OPEC countries as well as to ten other countries in a group known as Opec+, to which Russia belongs, among others. It is considered authentic, but there is no confirmation of the letter from OPEC so far.

The relevance of the letter stems from the United Nations rules for the climate summit. Accordingly, agreements must be approved unanimously. Any of the 198 participating nations can veto an agreement.

Before the summit, there had been speculation that there could be a compromise. For example, by the fact that the paragraph on the gradual phase-out of fossil fuels also includes the capture and underground storage of CO₂ (CCS). A phrase such as "phase-out of fossil emissions" includes the use of such technologies.

Critics fear that this could end up providing a pretext for the continued use of climate-damaging fossil fuels, the negative effects of which could at best be partially offset. The host – the United Arab Emirates – as an oil state, as well as other countries, had campaigned for such technologies.

Climate researcher: Emissions must fall "as quickly as possible"

Most recently, climate researchers wrote to UN Secretary-General António Guterres calling for a coal phase-out by 2030. In order for the 1.5°C target to remain possible, the richest countries would also have to phase out the use of oil and natural gas by 2040, explained Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter, UK.

Emissions must fall "as quickly as possible," the letter says. Ten years after the industrialized nations, the rest of the world would first have to phase out coal and then the rest of fossil fuels – i.e. by 2040 and 2050. However, based on recent studies, the richest nations would have to phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 – and the rest of the world by 2040.

In Dubai, "serious and fair efforts" should be made to begin implementing an "exit plan" from fossil fuels, the letter said.

UN climate chief Simon Stiell also warned: "COP28 must be about solutions that lead all countries out of the climate mess." Compromises must be made, but these should not come at the expense of ambitious results. "I don't want any distractions and political games this week that take climate protection hostage."