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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

COP28: Guterres Calls for Phasing Out Fossil Fuels

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called for the phasing out of fossil fuels while advocating the adoption of renewable energy.

“We cannot save a burning planet with a firehose of fossil fuels. We must accelerate a just, equitable transition to renewables,” he told world leaders at the World Climate Action Summit held on Friday in Dubai.

Mr. Guterres noted that the science is clear that the 1.5-degree Celsius limit is only possible if the burning of all fossil fuels is stopped across the world, not reducing or abating its use.

He added that fossil fuel should be phased out within a clear timeframe which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already charted. However, the world urgently needs leadership and political will to deliver on it, he said.

He further urged the G20, whose members are responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s emissions, to lead.

“Renewable energy is the gift that keeps on giving. It is good for our planet, our health, our economies, cleaning our air, and meeting the world’s growing energy demand,” he said outlining the benefits of renewables.

It connects millions of people to affordable electricity, saves money and brings stability and security to markets, the UN leader said.

Describing the world as unequal and divided, Mr. Guteress noted that climate chaos is fanning the flames of injustice including global heating busting budgets, ballooning food prices, upending energy markets, and feeding a cost-of-living crisis.

“Climate action can flip the switch,” he said.

The success of this year’s COP, he said, will depend on the Global Stocktake prescribing a credible cure in three areas.

First, drastically cutting emissions as current policies would lead to an earth-scorching three-degree temperature rise.

The Global Stocktake must also commit to triple renewables, double energy efficiency, and bring clean energy to all by 2030.

“The economics are clear: the global shift to renewables is inevitable,” he reiterated.

Addressing leaders of fossil fuel companies, the UN Chief said their model was rapidly ageing as clean energy investment in oil and gas industry accounts is low (one per cent).

“Lead the transition to renewables,” he charged, adding, “Make no mistake, the road to climate sustainability is also the only viable pathway to economic sustainability of your companies.”

Nigeria and fossil fuels

Nigeria is one of the 13 member countries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) whose economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas.

Nigeria in 2021 at COP26 pledged to attain Net Zero by 2060 and launched an Energy Transition Plan in 2022. The plan aims to bring modern energy services to the full population by 2030 and eliminate fossil fuel generators.

According to Tobi Oluwatola, an energy expert, this would mean adding about 6.3 gigawatts (GW) of distributed generation, approximately 0.6GW per year to electrify about 1.5 million new households per year. It will also raise the on-grid generation to 42GW, an ambitious increase of 3GW of new centralized generation per year – including 0.8GW per year of new solar PV, he said.

Nigeria expects to spend $1.9 trillion between 2022 and 2060 to meet the targets of the ETP across five sectors.

Nigeria, like most oil-producing countries, often touts gas (a lesser evil) as a transition fuel but lacks the infrastructure to deliver on that.

Mr. Oluwatola argued that the world needs to be aggressive in its efforts to phase out fossil fuels, if we must limit global warming to 1.5-2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Similarly, Nigeria also needs to be aggressive in diversifying its revenue sources and its economy, he said, adding that Nigeria and other developing nations must seek and get help from the developed world to make this transition, which is why a just transition is such a critical debate.

“Despite the declaration, fossil fuels will still be around for a few decades but it’s on borrowed time. Nigeria must maximize its possible earnings from fossil fuels while it can (if we can find the funding and skills to do so) and spend all it makes from fossil fuels in the interim to stimulate the next sources of income and not spend wastefully on consumption,” he advised.

This story was produced as part of the 2023 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published by Premium Times on 1 December 2023 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres addresses the opening ceremony of the World Climate Action Summit at COP28 in Dubai. / Credit: Premium Times.