The discussion of phasing out fossil fuels has been a major topic at COP28, despite criticism from some nations. For Pacific nations, the lack of action will have tangible consequences in the near future.
The president of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, disputed claims that phasing out fossil fuels would help restrict global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, stating that it would be unsustainable. However, over 1,000 scientists signed a letter affirming that moving towards this phase-out is necessary to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
For Pacific nations, facing the imminent threat of rising sea levels due to climate change, comments like those from Al Jaber reflect the belief that the global North is resistant to change, despite some larger polluters advocating for it at the summit.
Several countries, including Saudi Arabia, India, China, and Russia, have pushed against significant reduction of fossil fuel use, while also promoting green energy initiatives.
Criticism of a draft text at the summit for not calling for a phase-out of oil, gas, and coal sparked disappointment among Pacific island nations. The failure to include this language in the text was seen as a dramatic setback.
The U.N. World Meteorological Organization confirmed that 2023 is likely to be the hottest year on record. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) expressed concern over their voices not being heard during the summit.
Vanuatu’s climate change minister, Ralph Regenvanu, highlighted that a majority of countries support a fossil fuel-free future, but a small minority is preventing progress.
Amid calls for flexibility and higher ambition, leaders from the Pacific expressed discontent with the draft statement, which was also criticized by several countries from the Global North.
The lack of commitment to phasing out fossil fuels in the draft text was seen as a threat to maintaining the 1.5°C warming limit by AOSIS chair, Minister Cedric Schuster of Samoa.
The result of COP28 may not bring significant change to the economies of the Global North, but for Pacific nations, the threat of rising tides due to climate change is a harsh reality.