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The transition from fossils is not binding for us: Saudi Arabia makes COP28 waste paper

The intervention of the Saudi Minister of Energy, Abdulaziz bin Salman

– The “transition from fossils” decided at the COP28 in Dubai a few weeks ago? It is not binding, it is just one option among many. Among which countries can choose freely. Without being required to take a single concrete step to abandon or at least decrease production and demand for coal, oil and gas.

This is the very sui generis interpretation of the Dubai Pact recently given by Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy, Abdulaziz bin Salman. An interpretation that the minister of one of the world’s largest oil producers, as well as one of the countries most opposed to reducing or eliminating fossils during climate conferences, justifies by sticking to a few words in the text of the Global Stocktake (GST). And “forgetting” others.

The transition from fossils? Not binding

According to bin Salman, Saudi Arabia – as well as all other countries – would not be required to set a real transition from fossils. Because the text of the TSO specifies, at the beginning of Article 28 in which the key element of the whole COP28 is mentioned, that the listed actions are to be reached “in a way determined by the nations”, that is, with room for maneuver left to the countries on how to modulate them. He adds that countries must “contribute” to a “global effort” “taking into account the Paris Agreement and the different national circumstances”. Two elements that, according to the Minister, mean only one thing: Article 28 is a list of possible options, not a list of all binding objectives.

In other words, Bin Salman claims the possibility to choose only one or more of the listed actions. These include the goal of tripling the world’s renewable capacity by 2030, doubling energy efficiency, reducing the use of coal plants without reducing emissions, or accelerating the spread of low-techcarbon including nuclear and carbon removal technologies such as CCS and DAC.

The picture presented by the minister, however, contrasts with the language used in the article. Especially the step where you “require” (calls on) countries to engage in the listed actions. In the jargon of climate diplomacy, this verb indicates a binding commitment. However, there is no clear and explicit reference in the text to the fact that countries must engage in all the actions listed. And it is precisely on this slightest ambiguity that Saudi Arabia intends to play.

Bin Salman goes even further, pointing out that talking about the transition from fossils in no way means going toward the phase-out. “We could have used the same word interchangeably, but here’s a difference: there are people who are making the transition because they want to change their energy mix like us and there are those who believe that they should abandon the transition because they do not want to use fossil fuels,” said the minister during a conference, reports Climate Home.

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