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Bellona calls for a clear and science-based definition of ‘abated fossil fuels’ at COP28

Publish date: December 12, 2023

COP28, Dubai: In addition to a rapid decline in fossil fuels, the term ‘abated fossil fuels’ must be defined.  

The term ‘unabated’ is already included in previous CMA decisions and in several paragraphs of the draft texts at COP28 in Dubai. The Glasgow Pact and the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan call upon countries to accelerate efforts towards the ‘phase-down’ of ‘unabated’ coal power, but the UNFCCC currently does not have a definition for the associated term ‘abated fossil fuels’.  

The term ‘abated fossil fuels’ cannot remain undefined but must be made explicit to minimise any ambiguity and subsequent abuse of the term and should be mandated in, for example, via emissions performance standards. 

Without a definition of ‘abated fossil fuels’ there is a risk of loopholes, greenwashing, and false narratives, ultimately compromising the goals of the Paris Agreement. ‘Abated’ is generally understood as implying ‘with CO2 Capture and Storage’ (CCS) but clear quantified requirements are missing. Bellona recommends relying on clear and scientifically-sound definitions to minimise any emissions associated with the use of fossil fuels. 

It is abundantly clear that a rapid decline in fossil fuels is necessary to keep global temperature increases to less unmanageable levels. When properly defined and implemented, ‘abated fossil fuels’ can increase the cost of fossil fuels, thus accelerating their decline and making renewable energy more attractive. 

Bellona’s definition of ‘abated fossil fuels’ 

Fossil fuels are abated only when the full lifecycle emissions are near-zero, by capturing and permanently storing more than 90% of CO2 emissions generated and minimising fugitive emissions of CH4 to below 0.2% across the whole supply chain. 

When assessing emissions from fossil fuels it is important not to limit the scope to only CO2 emissions, but to include all greenhouse gases. Therefore, fugitive emissions must be included in the definition of ‘abated fossil fuels’.  

Recommendations 

  • Regulators must adopt the above definition of ‘abated fossil fuels’. 
  • This definition should then be used in regulation via the use of, for example, Emissions Performance Standards to be put in place to limit the amount of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere as a result of the use of fossil fuels. If the process does not comply with the quantified limits, the fossil fuel is not considered to be ‘abated’ and should therefore be phased out. 
  • This definition of ‘abated’ fossil fuels must not be watered down by allowing exemptions such as ‘promises’ or ‘commitments’ to later to replace fossil fuels with, for example, biomass, hydrogen or the future deployment of CCS. This definition only applies if the conditions are being applied. 
  • Full lifecycle emissions, including fugitive emissions in extraction, processing, distribution and use phases, must be included in calculations of thresholds and in the definition of ‘abated fossil fuels’. 
  • CO2 captured for the purpose of utilisation should not be recognised as ‘abated fossil fuels’. 
  • Fossil fuels must be abated on site, and offsets in any form must not be included in the definition of ‘abated’ fossil fuels. 
  • International standards and monitoring and verification bodies for greenhouse gas emissions should be established to transparently track and ensure that fossil fuels are truly ‘abated’. 
  • This definition of abated must be tightened in line with technological improvements. 
  • Even with these emissions thresholds, policies must push to reduce emissions further below these thresholds. 
  • Even with these emissions thresholds, policies must push to reduce emissions further below. There are still remaining emissions which must be dealt with.

Further reading 

IPCC [2022], Climate Change 2022, Mitigation of Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers 

Chris Bataille et al. [2023], A Paris Agreement Compliant Definition for “Abated Fossil Fuels”

The Grantham Institute, Phasing out ‘unbated fossil fuels’: the importance of defining ‘abatement’ 

Zero Carbon Analytics [2023], Towards a science-based definition of ‘unabated’ fossil fuels 

Chris Littlecott [2023], Twitter thread on the history of the term ‘unabated’ fossil fuels 

Carbon Brief [2023], Q&A: Why defining the ‘phaseout’ of ‘unabated’ fossil fuels is so important at COP28

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