In the final days of COP28, something unexpected has happened. The controversial COP President and oil executive, Sultan Al Jabar, urged the parties to agree on language to phase out fossil fuels and held a majlis to try to get it done. In parallel, over 1,800 leaders from across all sectors of society rallied behind a letter calling for a just and equitable phaseout of fossil fuels. Excitement on the ground was palpable and can be felt vicariously by listening to the latest Outrage and Optimism podcast.

Newbies to COP politics might wonder what’s so unexpected
about the world’s leading conference on climate calling for the phase-out of the very thing that is wrecking the climate and thus the planet. They need to know two essential facts:  (1) no COP, not even the historic COP21 that created the Paris Agreement has ever published the words “fossil fuels” in a joint statement, and (2) COP statements have to be agreed to by all 198 nations. So in reality, all they really need to know is the second fact, because it explains the first: oil-producing states have been intractably opposed to any language calling for the phaseout of fossil fuels.

As best we can tell, the sudden momentum behind the effort to explicitly address the phase-out of fossil fuels was sparked by the recent publicly-revealed admission by COP President Sultan Al Jabbar that the phaseout of fossil fuels was “inevitable.” This admission drew salience from the fact that Al Jabar is also the CEO of the United Arab Emirates’s national oil company and the focal point of several scandals that plagued his presidency.  We profiled the scandals and seized on his admission last week to make the phaseout of fossil fuels the focus of our campaigning. The folks at the COP saw the opportunity as well, hence the letter.

What we find remarkable about the letter, which we also signed, was the core pledge of the signatories, to “stand in courage and resolve with the COP28 President and all Parties in bringing us together behind a rapid response plan to the Global Stocktake.”  To stand “with”, not “against.”  Who ever thought we could stand with an oil executive?

Also notable was its use of the word courage, which has popped up in other contexts as well. Many words have been used to try to rally the world behind climate action — existential threat, outrage, optimism, hope — but in this dark time when emissions continue to rise, when the impacts of climate change accelerate, when tipping points are being crossed, and when the world’s leaders struggle to unite behind language that simply acknowledges reality, the word courage says best what is needed now from all of us.

The kind of courage Al Jabar showed by pushing for language on fossil fuels. Courage to put the interests of the many above self-interest. Courage to speak truth when friends and neighbors parrot the disinformation of the fossil fuel industry. Courage to make the needed changes in our own lives, switching sooner rather than later to electric everything, curtailing our consumption of planet-destroying foods, and, most importantly, courage to keep sending letters day after day to political and business leaders demanding action.

Our voices are being heard. Even if COP28 does not produce the language we need to hear, it has come closer than ever before. As Bill McKibben noted recently, “political pressure is reflected in progress in negotiations.” We also share Bill’s hope that “every American fighting the good fight in Dubai is ready to come home and fight the real fight here.”

And that fight now must consist in doing all we can to prevent the proposed massive buildout of LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) infrastructure. That was to be the topic of this week’s newsletter, but we posted it instead to a blog on the CAN website so that we could focus on last-minute developments at COP28.