"Something unprecedented is going to happen," said the President of the 28th UN Climate Change Conference, Al Jaber, on Friday morning in Dubai. He is optimistic that a consensus will be reached – even by Tuesday at 11 a.m. And the phase-out of fossil fuels is "unavoidable," he added. These are three confessions that one would never have expected from the man who is also the head of the oil company Adnoc. The mistrust of his leadership has not disappeared in the second week of negotiations in Dubai. There are still great doubts about the integrity of his person: Why should Al Jaber, of all people, push ahead with the liquidation of the oil industry?

But that is exactly what the grand finale of the climate conference is all about: for the first time, the final declaration of a COP is to decide on the gradual phase-out of all fossil fuels. The countries have been arguing for days about what exactly this passage should be – and also whether it should exist at all. Countless variants are possible: "phase out", "phase down" and "unabated" (all translation attempts are pointless, but they usually mean the inclusion of CCS, i.e. the capture and underground storage of CO₂).

In Dubai, nearly 200 countries with very different dependencies on oil, natural gas and coal are wrestling with these words. Not all of them have the means to quickly convert their energy supply, and for many, export revenues depend on it.

As of Saturday morning, there are four proposed wording options for the controversial passage:

  • Phasing out fossil fuels "in line with the best available science"

  • a phase-out of fossil fuels in line with the "best available science" as well as the 1.5°C pathways of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the principles of the Paris Agreement

  • a phase-out of fossil fuels, with a reference to CCS and a note that fossil fuel consumption will "peak" by 2030

  • or a phase-out of fossil fuels – with CCS – and a rapid "reduction in their use" to "reach net zero by around 2050"

The fifth option is: "not text", which means that there would be no passage at all to phase out or shut down fossil fuels. Some oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are currently working on this. According to insiders, they are not very willing to talk. They are supported by Russia and, at least in the first few days, also by China.

Observers, as of now, consider the second option to be the most progressive. With reference to the 1.5-degree target contained in the Paris Agreement, one thing is clear: emissions must be drastically reduced by 2030. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this figure rises by as much as 43 percent if the temperature target is to be met. That's almost half of the world's annual emissions.

This, in turn, also means that oil and gas combustion must fall immediately in any case. This is because technologies such as CCS are not yet ready for the market and, according to experts, will not play a significant role before 2030. Without a real reduction in the burning of oil, gas and coal, 43 percent is simply not feasible – you can plant as many trees as you want.

The EU, which is also negotiating on behalf of Germany at the COP, has a clear position: there must be an exit in the text and technologies such as CCS should only be available for heavy industry (such as cement plants). In the meantime, the EU delegation has sent German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock as a negotiator to defend her exit position.

Since Friday evening, she has been gearing up for the "endgame" of COP28. It is about describing "the way out of the fossil world," said the Green politician on Saturday morning in bright sunshine in front of the German pavilion on the conference grounds. This is anything but easy. It's still a tough one, because there are still those who want to carry their power politics from the past into the future, even with fossil fuel instruments of power politics."

In doing so, she alludes to those who really have something to lose here: the oil-producing countries. After all, it is the first time that the end of the oil and gas industry is to be sealed in an official COP document. They are also starting to panic. This can be seen in a letter from the head of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Haitham Al Ghais, which has been circulating since yesterday evening and is also available to SPIEGEL. In it, he calls for any agreement to be prevented and for "proactively rejecting any text or formulation aimed at energy". This would have "irreversible consequences".

It remains to be seen whether the 13 OPEC countries represented at the COP (Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo) will answer his call. Together with Russia (OPEC+ state) and China, they would definitely have the power to overturn paragraph 36.

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This week's topics

World Climate Conference: Nerves are on edge in Dubai – among the oil countries If OPEC gets involved, there must be great concern among the oil-producing countries
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Stay confident,

Yours sincerely, Susanne Götze
Science Editor