Ambiguity on abatement technologies risks undermining negotiation success

Correction: An earlier version of this press release included a 2025 and 2030 deadline for ending ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. In a major missed opportunity, the final published EU position statement does not include this deadline, despite it being included in various late drafts of the text and despite the EU already agreeing to a 2025 deadline for ending ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies at the G7. There appears to have been a real battle to raise ambition on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies: a late version of the negotiation position reflected a compromise changing the earlier 2025 deadline to “aiming at 2025 and no later than 2030”, but even this watered down timeline got removed from the text at the very last minute. This updated press release reflects the final version of the EU position statement

17 October, Brussels – Yesterday night European Union (EU) environment ministers agreed on  their negotiation position for COP28, the UN climate conference starting at the end of November in Dubai. The ministers will aim to secure an objective to triple renewable energy capacity and for this goal to go “hand in hand with the phase-out of fossil fuel energy production and consumption, to be adopted by COP28” while providing technical and financial support to developing countries to secure the benefits of this transition. They underline that a near-term peak in unabated fossil fuel consumption is required and the importance of securing an energy-system predominantly free of fossil fuels well before 2050, including securing a fully or predominantly decarbonized electricity system in the 2030s. 

Importantly, while the EU recognizes the need for the energy sector to be free of fossil fuels, well ahead of 2050, it does not fully close the door to ‘abatement’, a set of poorly defined technologies that have been promoted by the fossil fuel industry and its enablers to distract from the need to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels, which risks weakening its negotiating position in Dubai. However, the EU makes it clear that such technologies have a limited role to play and are no substitute for the phase out of fossil fuels. The Environment ministers say: “emissions abatement technologies … exist at limited scale and are to be used to reduce emissions primarily from hard to abate sectors.” They also state that they “should not be used to delay climate action in sectors where … alternatives are available”, which includes the energy sector.    

Despite earlier drafts including a 2025 deadline for phasing-out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies, this deadline did not make it into the adopted negotiation position meaning that ministers  failed to raise ambition on this agenda.  As part of the G7, the EU already adopted a 2025 deadline for ending ‘inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ back in 2016. At the UNFCCC the commitment to end inefficient fossil fuel subsidies first adopted at COP26 in 2021 did not include a timeline.

In response, Romain Ioualalen, Global Policy manager at Oil Change International said:
The EU’s COP28 mandate is a mixed bag. While the clear focus on the need for COP28 to agree to a phase out of fossil fuel production and consumption alongside strong renewable energy and energy efficiency targets is welcome, the EU’s failure to shut the door to so-called abatement technologies risks undermining its negotiation success. While the EU recognizes that these technologies should not delay climate action and only exist at limited scale, it should have held a firm line against abatement to have a strong negotiation position and credibility at COP28. Abatement technologies are the fossil fuel industry’s favorite tool to distract from the need for a full phase out of all fossil fuels. Missing from the EU’s position is the need for a just and equitable phase out of fossil fuels and an immediate halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure, which is incompatible with the stated objective of keeping warming under 1.5°C. 

“Avoiding a worsening crisis, unnatural disasters,  and fossil fuel and climate related illnesses and deaths,  requires countries to agree to end fossil fuel expansion and build a just and equitable phase out of fossil fuels. We urge the EU to work hard to bring other countries along to achieve that outcome in Dubai and to provide adequate finance in support of the global energy transition.

Laurie van der Burg, Co-Manager Global Public Finance at Oil Change International, said:
“It is a real shame that the EU failed to agree to fight for adding a timeline to the commitment to phase-out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies at COP28. Earlier drafts of the EU negotiation position included a call to phase-out these subsidies “as soon as possible, and before 2025”. Governments worldwide still provide over a trillion dollars a year in fossil fuel subsidies. Redirecting this money to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and social protection measures is both a matter of urgency to equitably phase-out of fossil fuels and a huge opportunity to free up significant sums that can be used to keep climate and energy access goals in reach. Today the EU could have raised the bar on this agenda. It is a missed opportunity that it has not.”