COP28: Farce, Or Revolution?
Is progress actually happening in Dubai?
Our planet teeters on the edge. We have used up so much of the Earth’s carbon budget that there are only a few years left to save it. We need global, cohesive and massive action immediately to avoid a worldwide catastrophe. As such, COP28 might be not only the most critical climate summit ever but quite possibly the most important international summit ever! But, it is being hosted in the UAE, a nation that was built on oil, and chaired by Sultan Al Jaber, a CEO of one of the world’s largest and least responsible oil companies. Despite this painful conflict of interest, progress is incredibly swift at COP28. But behind the scenes, there are still worrying signs that self-interest is at the heart of this crucial summit. So the question has to be asked: Is COP28 a farce or a revolution?
Let’s start off with possibly the most significant bit of good news to come from COP28 so far. On Saturday, more than 110 countries committed to triple renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030 and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements. Almost all G20 nations have committed, and as they account for 80% of global emissions, this makes this agreement massively impactful. China and India, some of the biggest polluters on the planet (though miles behind the US in terms of emissions per capita), didn’t commit, though they did signal support for it. But that might not matter. You see, the UAE wants this pledge to be included in the final deal made at the end of COP, meaning all the nearly 200 countries represented at the summit would also have to commit.
But is this commitment enough? Well, The IEA and IRENA found that to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, global renewable capacity needs to reach 11,008 GW and 11,174 GW, respectively, by 2030. The current renewable capacity is around 3.6 GW, or a third of the amount required by 2030. So yes, this commitment is enough as it aligns perfectly with the science! Particularly if it is included in the final deal made at the end of COP.
But, it isn’t just renewable energy getting a boost from COP28; so is nuclear power! Now, nuclear power has a bad reputation, but its carbon emissions are as low and sometimes lower than renewables. Fears over nuclear power’s safety are also blown way out of proportion, as it actually causes less death per unit of energy than any renewable and far less than any fossil fuel. What’s more, as nuclear is one of only a few low-carbon energy sources that is on-demand, it stands to play a vital role in future net-zero energy grids by providing energy security against unpredictable renewables. Despite all this, rates of nuclear power expansion have dwindled in recent years and even gone backwards in numerous instances.
So it is brilliant news that more than 20 countries have called for the tripling of worldwide nuclear energy capacity to reach net-zero by 2050. These countries include the US, Japan, Ghana, the UK, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, South Korea, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. This only goes to show how much nuclear safety fears are blown out of proportion, as Japan and Ukraine, the only two countries that have suffered from major nuclear accidents, have nonetheless signed up to this agreement.
But there aren’t just pledges to adopt clean energy at COP28; there is also significant momentum to reduce oil production. However, one key player is suspiciously quiet here.
Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said that he intends to join OPEC+ (an organisation that “coordinates and unifies petroleum policies among member countries” to ensure the health and profit of the oil industry) in 2024. But, rather than doing so to protect Brazil’s oil companies, he intends to use this position to generate change in the wider industry. Da Silva said, “I think it’s important for us to participate in OPEC+ because we need to convince the countries that produce oil that they need to prepare to reduce fossil fuels.” And went on to say, “Preparing means taking advantage of the money oil and making investments so that a large continent like Latin America can produce the renewable fuels they need.”
But other major oil-producing nations took far more decisive action. Colombia, one of the world’s biggest oil producers whose annual production is only a fraction behind Oman’s, has called for the end of new coal, oil and gas development. It did this by joining the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose members include WHO, the EU parliament, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Antigua and Barbuda, Palau, California, Hawaii, along with a plethora of cities including Austin Texas, Paris, London and Buenos Aires.
According to the IEA, we needed to stop fossil fuel expansion in 2022 to meet our climate goals. So, while this action is a little late, it is nonetheless deeply important. Especially as it puts pressure on other oil-producing nations, like the US, UK and Middle Eastern countries, such as the UAE, to join the treaty. Speaking of the UAE, the host nation was incredibly quiet during calls to reduce oil production, despite its almost sole role in driving climate change. But, as we will cover in a minute, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Sadly, though, this is where the good news ends, and instead, it just gets dystopian.
One of the most heinous and transparent acts of greenwashing occurred over the weekend. 50 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies pledged to net-zero operations by 2050. On the face of it, this seems like a giant leap forward! But, this pledge only covers emissions from production, not from the burning of these fossil fuels. For some context here, once burned, a single 42-gallon barrel of oil emits 426.10 kg of CO2, but it takes 42.61 kg of CO2 emissions to produce each barrel. As such, this pledge does little to reduce the overall emissions of the oil and gas industry, especially as the deadline to hit net-zero operations is decades away.
As such, this pledge also does very little to address the fact that the only way to decarbonise oil and gas is to stop producing it as soon as possible. Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said that “anything short of this is just more industry greenwash.”
Worries about the integrity of the COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber, have also proven to be well-founded.
During a live event on the 21st of November, Al Jaber made some horrific comments when being questioned by Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elder’s group and a former UN special envoy for climate change. In response to some poignant and well-put questions, Al Jaber said, “I accepted to come to this meeting to have a sober and mature conversation. I’m not in any way signing up to any discussion that is alarmist. There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.” he continued and said, “Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
Al Jaber is demonstrably wrong here, to the point where he surely must know, even if he is drinking his own oil-proganada Kool-Aid. Every scientific study into achieving 1.5 degrees of global warming involves a near-complete phase-out of fossil fuels. Well-respected bodies such as the UN, IEA, IRENA and a plethora of individual studies (such as this one and this one) have shown this time and time again. Al Jaber also ignored the abundance of research and industry data that has shown that renewables are better for the economy than fossil fuels by creating more and better-paying jobs than fossil fuels whilst also increasing energy independence, which can improve national security (by not being reliant on oil imports). What’s more, renewables are now several times more profitable than oil! A recent study by The Centre for Climate Finance and Investment at Imperial College Business School of London and the International Energy Agency found that profits from green electricity were 367% higher than from fossil fuels in the last ten years.
So either Al Jaber is far too ignorant of reality to be chairing such a momentous and crucial climate summit, or his own personal interest in sustaining his Scrooge McDuck level of oil-based wealth is making him too morally bankrupt to chair it. Either way, this stance is profoundly worrying.
The fact of the matter is that the progress happening at COP28 is mainly happening despite the UAE and Al Jaber, not because of them. The majority of the world seems ready to enact massive changes in order to save the planet at the eleventh hour. Yet, those who are meant to be spearheading this movement are primarily on the sideline spewing anti-scientific, nonsensical oil propaganda and attempting to greenwash the summit. But there is one upside here. It is exposing these oil-rich nations’ true motivation of profiteering above the health of the planet and those who call it home. They will either have to live with the backlash as the world turns away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, crushing their economy and position in global politics, or radically adapt to keep their wealth and new-found global influence. Which one will it be, Al Jaber? Because right now, COP28 isn’t a farce, but you are.
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