Washington: The world nations should agree to phase out fuel emissions - not the production of oil, gas and coal - at the upcoming UN climate change negotiations, the United Arab Emirates that is hosting the summit this December, said.
The comments reflect deep divisions between nations over how to combat global warming ahead of the COP28 talks. Some wealthy Western governments and climate-afflicted island nations have been pushing for a phase out of fossil fuels, while resource-rich countries have campaigned to keep drilling.
UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Almheiri told Reuters in an interview that phasing out fossil fuels would hurt countries that depend on them for revenue or can not easily replace them with renewable sources.
She favoured phasing out fossil fuel emissions using capture and storage technologies while ramping up renewable energy, saying this strategy lets countries fight warming while continuing to produce oil, gas, and coal.
"The renewable space is advancing and accelerating extremely fast but we are nowhere near to be able to say that we can switch off fossil fuels and solely depend on clean and renewable energy," Almheiri said on the sidelines of the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate conference in Washington.
"We are now in a transition and this transition needs to be just and pragmatic because not all countries have the resources," she added. The UAE is co-hosting the AIM conference with the United States.
At last year's climate summit in Egypt, over 80 countries including the EU and small island nations agreed to include language in the final outcome calling for a phase down of all fossil fuels. Countries including Saudi Arabia and China urged Egypt not to include that language in the final text.
This month, G7 countries agreed to hasten their phaseout of fossil fuel consumption, although they did not set a firm date.
Almheiri pointed to the UAE's example of relying on new carbon capture technology and renewables to decrease the emissions intensity of the OPEC member's oil and gas operations.
The UAE has a goal to get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2050 from the current level of 25%, and could strengthen that goal, she said. Almheiri added that alongside energy, global food supply will be a major focus of COP28 because it accounts for nearly a third of global emissions.
As with energy, technology and innovation can solve food security problems, Almheiri said, noting that it has helped the UAE, with its parched desert landscape, devise a food security strategy.
Tackling inefficiencies of the global food system can also help address problems like malnutrition, food waste and climate change all at once, she said. "We are making sure that the food systems dialogue is on center stage along with the energy dialogue at COP28," she added.