Last week’s UN Climate Summit in New York revealed deep divisions over how to combat global warming.
On one hand, the global oil and gas industry that wants the expansion of fossil fuels and, on the other, the green lobby that believes fossil fuel development must be stopped, to keep the earth’s temperature within acceptable limits.
With the COP 28 climate talks in Dubai less than two months away, the hopes for any ground-breaking agreements appear to have been dampened, according to reports.
“Countries understand that we need to progress,” said Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s minister for development co-operation and global climate policy, who is chairing discussions on what fresh climate targets could be agreed upon at COP28. “The bad news is even though we agree on that, we are pretty far from having a consensus on what that actually means. We need to address the elephant in the room — the burning of fossil fuels,” he said.
The most contentious area surrounds the timing of what is actually meant by the phasing out of fossil fuels. Connected to this, is whether there should be an expanding role for carbon capture technologies, or abatement.
Gaining agreement on the wording of a future energy policy that everyone could agree to had been beyond the ability of a succession of climate summits, said the Financial Times.
Last week, the leaders of 17 countries – including France, Spain, Denmark and Kenya – signed a letter insisting that “abatement technology cannot be used to greenlight fossil fuel expansion”. They said that investment in technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, played a “minimal” role in decarbonising energy systems. The technology was not yet widely used but, even so, it was being relied upon by fossil fuel producers to make a case for new projects.
The leaders said that until the world stopped adding carbon to the atmosphere, “the need to continuously adapt will never end. The costs will go up and up. We will count them in human lives. Restoring and protecting carbon sinks should be a top priority. We must set and meet ambitious global targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency, as part of a just and equitable transition that delivers global clean energy access.”
Pre-2050 EU goal of unabated fossil fuel phase out
Separately, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said major polluters should match the EU’s goal that “unabated fossil fuels are phased out well before 2050”.
And with pressure mounting from developing nations who want financial support to help transition to green energy systems, US climate envoy John Kerry has criticised “new unabated coal developments in Asia, where China and India are boosting production,” said the FT.
During the New York Climate Summit, the heads of small island nations conveyed “the need for wider alarm about the existential threat posed by rising sea levels.”
Kausea Natano, the prime minister of Tuvalu, warned: “If the world allows an entire country to disappear because of climate change, there will be no hope for anyone else.”
And Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who has repeatedly called for greater funding from the wealthier nations for small countries affected by climate change, remarked: “It is not challenging just for small states, it’s challenging for most countries globally, including the developed world. And perhaps that’s a good thing because . . . the sense of urgency has come to the table in a way it hasn’t for decades.”
Warnings about moving away from fossil fuels
On the other side of the fence, at the biennial World Petroleum Congress, which has just taken place in the Canadian oil heartland of Calgary, 500 industry executives warned about the risks of retreating too rapidly from fossil fuels in the near term.
Speaking at the conference, Amin Nasser, the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, said: “I see many shortcomings in the current transition approach that can no longer be ignored.
“Phasing out conventional energy prematurely could put energy security and affordability priorities at risk,” he continued. “As the recent energy crisis has shown — compounded by the conflict in Ukraine — the world wobbles if these realities are ignored or wished away.”
Turning up the heat on the green lobby, executives in Calgary argued that rather than turning its back on the oil and gas sector, the world should be making the most of the industry’s carbon expertise.
At the same event, the Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, disputed the International Energy Agency’s latest forecast that global fossil fuel demand would peak this decade and would be overtaken by cheaper and cleaner renewable energy.
Whilst world leaders want to reach universal agreement at COP28 over preserving the goal of limiting warming, the fossil fuel industry executives will be pushing against any production cuts this side of 2050.
Press reports say that the prominence of the oil and gas industry at the December Summit “remains a source of acrimony and mistrust” and Sultan al-Jaber, the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company who will preside over the gathering, has come in for heavy criticism from “campaigners and a group of more than 130 liberal EU and US lawmakers.”
John Kerry defended the industry’s inclusion as essential for the planning of emission cuts but Al Gore, the former US vice-president and climate campaigner, said the fossil fuel industry had captured global UN negotiations on climate change “to a disturbing degree”.
Speaking to the FT, Gore said that most in the sector wanted to “block and delay and prevent anything that would reduce the sale and burning of fossil fuels. It’s simply not realistic to believe that they are going to take the lead in solving this crisis.”
Little optimism for remedy at COP28
In a UN Climate Summit speech last week, US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, said financial institutions must develop consistent and credible climate plans, in response to what she described as the “significant economic costs” associated with global warming. And she announced a series of voluntary “principles”, to encourage more private sector cash into climate and clean energy projects, and to combat greenwashing.
Prior to her announcement, at the Summit opening, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres attacked wealthy countries and the fossil fuel industry, warning that humanity had ‘opened gates to hell’ by letting climate crisis worsen, the Guardian reported.
Accusing fossil fuel companies of embarking upon a “shameful” attempt to stymie the transition, Guterres said the world was “decades behind” in transitioning to clean energy. “We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.”
According to the Guardian, there remained “a yawning gap in terms of what is needed to avert disastrous climate change, with little optimism that the upcoming COP28 climate summit in Dubai will remedy this.”