By David Stanway
DUBAI (Reuters) – China’s top climate diplomat on Saturday said a final agreement on fossil fuels at the United Nations COP28 summit was crucial – even if not perfect – but he declined to say whether the country could agree to eliminating coal, oil and gas entirely.
An agreement by the world’s nearly 200 countries to eliminate fossil fuels – the main driver of climate change – has become the make or break issue on the negotiating table at the Dubai summit.
The Chinese climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, told reporters in a briefing that without the fossil fuels agreement there was not much chance of success at COP28.
China remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels, with coal still the country’s largest energy source.
“The energy transition is extremely important… but this transition requires a period of pain. Each country has different national conditions,” Xie said.
China wants a text that expresses the need to reduce fossil fuels as quickly as possible while at the same time allowing room for developing countries to maintain energy security and grow their economies.
Asked about the language options on “phasing out” fossil fuels in the latest negotiating text, Xie said China was already consulting with other countries in order to find a solution.
“We all want to work together to find a language that points in the right direction of further efforts and reflects inclusiveness to the utmost extent and is acceptable to all parties,” he said.
He suggested that the terminology agreed by the United States and China during the Sunnylands meeting in November could offer a way forward. A target calling for the gradual reduction of fossil fuels in the global energy mix could also be an option, he said.
The Sunnylands agreement does not include “phase out” but says that both sides should “accelerate renewable energy deployment in their respective economies through 2030 from 2020 levels so as to accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation”.
China is working with all the major negotiating groups to find a solution, and a consensus must be found among parties with vastly different views, Xie said.
“The positions on the issue are currently very antagonistic, and China is trying to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties and can solve the problems,” he said.
China supports global goals to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030, he added, but declined to say whether it would join more than 100 countries and sign a pledge to meet the target.
The veteran envoy told journalists that in his 16 years as a climate negotiator, this was the hardest COP he had ever seen.
“The meeting that feels the most difficult is this year’s. There are so many issues to settle.”
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by William James and Clelia Oziel)