EU countries have agreed to “systematically” call for a global phase-out of fossil fuels as they prepare for this year’s UN climate talks in Dubai.
The EU Council approved a common position on climate and energy diplomacy, which sets out the bloc’s priorities ahead of the Cop28 summit.
Member states agreed to “systematically promote and call for a global move towards energy systems free of unabated fossil fuels well ahead of 2050” but recognised “a transitional role for natural gas”.
The text stresses that “a dependence on fossil fuels leaves countries vulnerable to market volatility and geopolitical risk” and that climate neutrality “will require the global phase-out of unabated fossil fuels”.
It repeats a Cop26 commitment to “close the book” on unabated coal power and calls for an immediate end to international financing for coal. This, however, does not extend to ending financing for overseas oil and gas – despite a pledge to do so signed by 10 EU countries in Glasgow.
Alex Scott, who leads think tank E3G’s climate diplomacy work, told Climate Home News the agreement formalises the position the EU adopted at the Cop27 talks in Egypt but left room for improvement.
The bloc was among a coalition of more than 80 countries that took up a call by India to extend Cop26’s groundbreaking call to phase down coal to other fossil fuels. But faced with opposition from oil and gas producers, Egypt didn’t include the proposal in the final text.
The issue is set to dominate discussions at Cop28 in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers.
The pledge to actively pursue a global fossil fuel phase out “is a step up in EU climate diplomacy,” Scott said. But the timeline “needs to be clearer and sooner to set the direction” and the term “unabated” needs to be defined to avoid loopholes, she added.
Sven Harmeling, a campaigner at CAN Europe, said the deal “sends an important signal that the EU is speaking out on the need to move away from fossil fuels”.
“What is of course missing is a clearer signal by the EU that it needs to be quicker than ‘well ahead of 2050’ because of its historic emissions and its capacity to decarbonise,” he said.
He added that the focus on coal should not distract from the need to wind down oil and gas production.
The document, initially expected in February, was delayed because of a dispute over the role of nuclear-derived hydrogen in meeting carbon targets.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine compelled many EU countries to reconsider their long-standing opposition to nuclear power as they seek alternatives to Russian energy imports.
France, which relies heavily on nuclear energy, argues that nuclear-made hydrogen should be considered green. Germany and Spain fear this would distract from efforts to boost renewables.
On Thursday, an advisor to German chancellor Olaf Schulz, told an event in Paris that Berlin was not opposed to hydrogen made from nuclear energy and would import it from France.
The final text doesn’t specify the type of hydrogen the union will back. But countries agreed to “promote the deployment of safe and sustainable low-carbon technologies” – language which usually refers to nuclear energy.
Alternative gas supplies
The EU said it remains steadfast to its commitment to phase out its dependency from Russian fossil fuels “as soon as possible”.
Eurostat figures show coal imports fell from 45% in 2021 to 22% in 2022, and gas from 36% to 21%. Ministers said volumes have continued to decline in recent months.
While countries are still seeking to diversify their gas supplies, ministers agreed there was “no need for a one-to-one replacement of former Russian natural gas import volumes” and warned against creating “fossil fuel lock-ins and stranded assets”.
Recent analysis by Climate Action Tracker found that the global dash for gas that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is threatening the world’s ability to keep global temperature rise to 1.5C.
Call for cooperation
At a time of deepening geopolitical tensions, the EU emphasised the need for cooperation between nations.
In addition to the Just Energy Transition Partnerships, the bloc wants to increase cooperation with its coal-reliant neighbours, including in the Western Balkans, and with other developing countries with high energy-related emissions.
The emphasis on cooperation comes as the EU is scrambling to respond to the US Inflation Reduction Act – a $370bn green subsidy package with generous climate incentives for products “made in America”. Brussels is concerned the incentives will encourage companies to relocate production to the US.