Leaders from Germany, Spain and France reacted angrily after the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) called on Nigeria and its other members to oppose any fossil fuels deal at COP28 — the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Dubai.
Haitham Al Ghais, OPEC’s Secretary General sent a letter to the group’s 13 members and 10 Russian-led allies earlier this week after negotiators at COP28 released a draft pledge that included calls for a phase-out of fossil fuels.
In the letter, Ghais urged the group to “proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy i.e. fossil fuels rather than emissions.”
Baerbock: ‘Power politics’ thwarting progress
Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy, suggested any call for blocking a fossil fuels deal would hurt smaller countries, vulnerable to sea level rises caused by global warming.
“Right now, countries here are fighting for their lives. The small islands, and most countries here, are engaging very actively on this discussion in a real way,” she said. “And I think it is not responsible to have a position that could mean the life and death of many million people.”
“When I listen to the small islands who are in my ear and in my heart, and then I hear about this OPEC letter, I’m deeply concerned about it,” she added. “We’re seeing very worrying tactics by the Arab groups here.”
Annalena Baerbock, German foreign minister said that countries that rely heavily on oil and gas remain resistant to major efforts to combat climate change.
Baerbock said the struggle is about seeking a “way out of the fossil fuel world,” in remarks on Saturday in Dubai.
“This is anything but easy,” Germany’s top diplomat said, as there are still nations that favor geopolitical importance and “power politics” over the use of fossil fuels.
Baerbock said that her focus would be on those countries that have gained wealth from fossil fuels.
‘Stunned,’ ‘angry’ and ‘disgusted’
OPEC’s opposition to any fossil fuel phase-out deal drew a furious response on Saturday from French Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher and Spanish Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera.
“I am stunned by these statements from OPEC. And I am angry,” Pannier-Runacher said from the climate conference, adding that “OPEC’s position endangers the most vulnerable countries and the poorest populations who are the first victims of this situation.”
Pannier-Runacher said she was “counting on the presidency of the COP not to be influenced by these declarations, and to reach an agreement which affirms a clear objective of phasing out fossil fuels.”
Meanwhile, Spain’s Ribera told reporters: “I think that it is quite, quite a disgusting thing that OPEC countries are pushing against getting the bar where it has to be.”
“We need to be quite clear, bold, crystal clear that the European Union will be aligning with… a large majority of the parties in this conference to ensure that we have (a) meaningful and productive outcome connected to this phase-out of fossil fuels,” she said.
OPEC insists ‘no single solution’
OPEC hit back at the criticism, saying it was vital to agree on “realistic approaches” to tackle climate change.
“There is no single solution or path to achieve a sustainable energy future,” OPEC Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais said in a speech read by a colleague.
“We need realistic approaches to tackle emissions, ones that enable economic growth, help eradicate poverty and increase resilience at the same time,” the speech continued.
China hopeful of a deal
China, the world’s largest oil importer, played down the row and said it was working to find a solution that was “acceptable to all parties”.
“I think we’ve already had some progress on this issue and I believe we will have more progress in resolving this in the coming few days,” China’s climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters in Dubai.
“Because if we do not, if we do not resolve this issue, I don’t see much chance in having a successful COP28,” he said.
COP28 director ‘confident’
Majid al-Suwaidi, COP28 Director General downplayed the OPEC letter, saying the UAE team running the UN summit has been meeting with negotiators to get an ambitious deal.
“I feel confident that we’re going to get a good result, you’re going to be surprised,” Suwaidi told The Associated Press.
Saturday’s angry response to OPEC from France and Spain came as protests at the conference center in Dubai were set to intensify, with a “Global Day of Action” urging countries to act more decisively over climate change issues.