China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said today that a global fossil fuel phase-out is unrealistic, dampening hopes that such an aim could be agreed at the Cop28 climate talks.
In a speech in Beijing today, the veteran negotiator said that “completely eliminating fossil energy is not realistic”, according to a translation provided by the Center for China and Globalization.
He said that renewable energy is dependent on the weather so “fossil fuels should serve as a flexible and back up energy source when technologies such as large-scale energy storage, electric power transmission, smart grids, microgrids are not yet fully mature”.
He added that the emissions which come from burning fossil fuels can be reduced with carbon capture and storage technology.
This chimes with what Cop28 president Sultan Al-Jaber, the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has said about the world needing to phase out “fossil fuel emissions” rather than fossil fuels themselves.
‘Break the addiction’
But at a climate summit in New York yesterday, UN chief Antonio Guterres had stronger words. “[G20 countries] must break their addiction to fossil fuels, stop new coal, and heed the International Energy Agency’s findings that new oil and gas licensing by them is incompatible with keeping the 1.5 degree limit alive,” he said.
The UN had reserved speaking slots at the summit for those it deemed “first movers and doers”. China – like the US and UK – did not make the cut.
The head of the European Union Ursula Von Der Leyen said that “other major emitters” needed to match the EU’s ambition to ensure “unabated fossil fuels are phased out well before 2050”.
German leader Olaf Scholz told the room that at Cop28 “it will take strong resolution of us all to phase out fossil fuels – first and foremost coal”.
The prime minister of the Pacific island of Tuvalu Kausea Natano said “there is no bigger threat than fossil fuels”.
At last year’s Cop27 climate talks, a broad coalition of nations pushed for fossil fuel phase-out language in the decision text. They were blocked by oil and gas producers like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia, while China remained silent.
At a meeting of the G20 this month, leaders of 20 major economies including China were unable to agree to phase out fossil fuels.
But the G20 did agree to try and triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 and today Xie said he had an “open attitude” towards the goal.
He said it must be “acceptable to all parties, considering different national circumstances and combining qualitative and quantitative aspects”.
He said that a new energy system should be established before the old one is abolished.
In his speech today, Xie took aim at wealthy countries for failing to deliver the $100 billion a year of climate finance they promised by 2020 which “pertains to the trust between the North and the South”.
Rich nations say they are “confident” of delivering that money this year, although the figures won’t be out until 2025.
Xie said that the loss and damage fund should be set up at Cop28 and there should be arrangements to make sure developed countries meet their target to double finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change.