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Climate Summit (COP28) in an Oil Country?

04 December, 2023 | Erick Brenes Mata

Typically, at the Conference of the Parties (COP), now in its 28th edition, global leaders from countries that signed the original United Nations climate agreement (UN) in 1992 convene to discuss limiting and preparing for future climate change. However, several controversies have emerged even before its commencement.

At the onset of COP28, the announcement of the “Loss and Damage Fund,” agreed upon at COP27, intended for the richest countries—those who contributed most to global warming—to pay the poorest nations already experiencing climate change effects, was made. However, the mechanisms and specifics of how this fund will operate remain highly controversial. Some affluent nations resist accepting responsibility for past emissions. Consequently, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping will not physically attend the summit, although they will be represented.

Although the initial commitment to donate $100 billion annually to developing nations by the most developed countries was made in 2009 to aid in emissions reduction and climate change adaptation, this goal was unmet by 2020. Preliminary data suggest it might be achieved in the next two years.

Additionally, let’s recall that the 1.5°C warming limit agreed upon at COP21 encouraged climate action, albeit criticized as insufficient, on a nearly global scale.

Hence, both in this COP and previous ones, many activists and global organizations have termed them as “greenwashing” because the pace of action falls short of achieving the objectives established in the Paris Agreement by the participating parties themselves.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, the goal of limiting the global temperature rise in the long term is crucial not only to avert more adverse impacts but also because recovery will be costlier, especially for those least prepared or lacking necessary funds to adapt, who coincidentally are the most vulnerable.

However, if we continue burning fossil fuels at the current rate, recent IPCC estimates suggest that as a global community, we are on track to reach a warming of between 2.4°C and 2.7°C by the year 2100. The United Nations warns that the “window” to maintain the limit at 1.5°C is rapidly closing.

Therefore, during COP28, in addition to progressing on existing goals, negotiations will likely focus on:

  • Accelerating the transition to clean energy to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
  • Ensuring financial resources for climate action from the most developed nations and devising a new agreement for developing nations.
  • Concentrating on nature and people and promoting a more inclusive COP. Additionally, thematic conferences on health, finance, food, and nature will be held.

Conversely, even before negotiations began, the United Nations denounced political lobbying in favor of fossil fuels by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host country, among the world’s top ten oil producers. The UAE appointed Sultan al-Jaber, the executive director of the state oil company, as the talks’ chairman. While al-Jaber previously advocated for a gradual reduction in fossil fuels, he did not advocate for ending their production and consumption completely.

Climate advocates argue that repeatedly restricting agreements to fossil fuels would perpetuate their production. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), more fossil fuel plants are being produced and built than should be burned if we want to limit warming to 1.5°C. The European Union, at least, advocates for a gradual but total elimination of fossil fuel production.

Lastly, according to Dr. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global oil and gas industry faces a critical moment in the COP28 climate talks, where they must choose to contribute to the climate crisis or become part of the solution.

While it’s true that al-Jaber is the president of the renewable energy company Masdar and has overseen the expansion of clean technologies such as solar and wind, he’s criticized for prioritizing carbon capture and storage technologies. These technologies are not fully developed and could allow continued dependency on oil and gas.

Birol insists that the notion of capturing substantial carbon for storage must be set aside to achieve global climate goals.

Current estimates indicate that, based on current oil and gas consumption, around 32,000 million tons of CO2 would have to be captured and stored to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, only 45 million tons are captured globally. Moreover, the electricity required to power these technologies would surpass the global electricity demand.

As part of the challenge faced by fossil fuel companies, it’s worth noting they were only responsible for 1% of the world’s investment in renewable energy.

Now, the world waits to see which approach prevails at COP28, aiming to maintain its legitimacy, having been ratified by nearly 200 nations.