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Cop28 draft climate deal criticised as ‘grossly insufficient’ and ‘incoherent’

<span>Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

A draft deal to cut global fossil fuel production is “grossly insufficient” and “incoherent” and will not stop the world from facing dangerous climate breakdown, according to delegates at the UN’s Cop28 summit.

The text put forward by the summit presidency after 10 days of wrangling was received with concern and anger by many climate experts and politicians, though others welcomed elements of the draft including the first mention in a Cop text of reducing fossil fuel production.

Some countries are despairing that the text does not require a full phase-out of fossil fuels.

Cedric Schuster of Samoa, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, said: “We will not sign our death certificate. We cannot sign on to text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels.”

The Cop28 presidency released a draft text in the early evening on Monday, which called for “reducing both consumption and production of fossil fuels, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, so as to achieve net zero by, before or around 2050, in keeping with the science”.

The text avoids highly contentious calls for a “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuels, which have been the focus of deep disagreement among the more than 190 countries meeting in Dubai.

But instead of requiring fossil fuel producers to cut their output, it frames such reductions as optional, by calling on countries to “take actions that could include” reducing fossil fuels. “That one word ‘could’ just kills everything,” said Eamon Ryan, Ireland’s environment minister, adding that the EU could walk out of the talks if the text did not improve.

“We can’t accept this text,” Ryan said. “It’s not anywhere near ambitious enough. It’s not broad enough. It’s not what parties have been calling for … we have to stitch climate justice into every part of this text and we are not anywhere near that yet.”

The text is expected to form the key outcome of this fortnight of fraught talks on the future of climate action, which are scheduled to end on Tuesday morning in the United Arab Emirates.

If the language on fossil fuels survives an expected onslaught from the negotiators of big oil-producing countries, it would mark the first time that countries were being asked under the UN framework convention on climate change to reduce their fossil fuel production.

Related: Fossil fuel phase-out will ‘not avert climate breakdown without protections for nature’

Governments will now have an opportunity to make their views known, and are expected to wrangle hard over the wording. For some countries that wanted an unambiguous phase-out of fossil fuels, the failure to mandate a reduction is too much of a weakening.

Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders group of former global politicians, said: “It is not good enough to say you recognise and respect the science but then fail to take heed of its dire warnings in the collective action you commit to … It is not good enough to use weak language or to permit loopholes for the fossil fuel industry to continue to contribute to the very problem countries are meant to be committed to tackling here in Dubai … this current version of the Cop28 text is grossly insufficient.”

It is also feared that countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has firmly refused to countenance a phase-out or phase-down of fossil fuels, may use the final hours of these talks to try to weaken the text further.

A spokesperson for the presidency said: “The Cop28 presidency has been clear from the beginning about our ambitions. This text reflects those ambitions and is a huge step forward. Now it is in the hands of the parties, who we trust to do what is best for humanity and the planet.”

The text tackles the issue of fossil fuel production head on, rather than referring to the emissions from fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia has been trying throughout the conference to insist on the term fossil fuel emissions, in place of fossil fuel production, in order to leave room for the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The text also avoids the term “unabated”, which some countries wanted to insert, which also refers to the use of CCS. The head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, has described the use of CCS to allow oil companies to carry on producing as a “fantasy” and an “illusion”.

The language includes a reference to scientific advice, which many countries are likely to take as a reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world’s leading climate scientists, which has concluded that there can be only a very small role for fossil fuels in 2050, if the world is to meet net zero emissions and limit global heating to 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels. Fossil fuel reductions “in keeping with the science” would therefore have to be drastic in the next two and a half decades.

David Waskow, at the World Resources Institute, said: “This text doesn’t send the clear signals that are needed to avert the climate crisis. The suggested set of actions is merely a pick-your-own menu … But you can’t just pick one, or a couple, out of that list. The world is going to need to tackle all of those transformative changes together.”

Seve Paeniu, Tuvalu’s finance minister, said: “This is not good at all. There is no reference to a phase-out. That is a worry. And it provides countries with options rather than obligations, and that is worrisome.” He said Tuvalu would continue to press for stronger language.

Romain Ioualalen, policy lead at Oil Change International, a pressure group, said: “The latest draft is an incoherent and dangerous list of weak measures completely divorced from what is needed to limit warming to 1.5C.”

Meena Raman, a climate policy expert from the Third World Network, said the text reads “like the president is trying to manage a balancing act” between developing and developed countries. “You can never keep everyone happy, that’s negotiating – it’s always a delicate balance. But I am a bit relieved that it’s not completely biased … For the first time we have language in the text about consumption and production, which is interesting.”

Other campaigners welcomed the text. Mohamed Adow, the director of Power Shift Africa, said: “This text lays the ground for transformational change. This is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.”