It's Official: COP28 Is An Utter Farce
A damning indictment of our global political scene.
COP28 is one of our last chances to save our world. That isn’t hyperbole at all. The carbon budget of the planet will be depleted well within a decade, and the ecological, economic and well-being impacts of global warming past 1.5 degrees (which we are well on track to smash past) will be utterly apocalyptic. There will be billions of climate refugees, widespread risk of starvation as food production tanks, trillions of dollars in property damage, economic downturns larger than any recession, and a direct vast death-toll tanks to frequent and deadly extreme weather across the globe. The only way to stop this catastrophic vision of the future from coming true is binding worldwide fossil fuel phase out legislation. Yet, the head of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, has scrapped this vital step from the summit draft text. So, why has Jaber done this? Is his alternative to fossil fuel phase out valid (hint, it isn’t)? And can this situation be rectified?
At the end of COP summits, a draft deal is written that summarises all the agreements that took place in conferences and meetings at the summit. This draft deal is then bounced around and rewritten until the countries present agree on it; they then sign it and put the legislation into place.
The President of COP28, CEO of leading OPEC nation the UAE’s nationalised oil company ADNOC, Sultan Al Jaber, tried to conclude COP28 quick smart on Tuesday and proposed a draft deal for the summit. To his surprise, it was widely panned.
The initial draft deal at the beginning of COP28 included calls to phase out fossil fuels. However, Al Jaber’s draft dropped this and instead merely suggested reducing them. There isn’t even a binding agreement to reduce fossil fuels, just a vague suggestion.
The immediate backlash to this was palpable. Al Gore poignantly stated that “this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word.” The US envoy John Kerry used less fruitful, though no less damning, language and said, “The mitigation section, including the issue of fossil fuels, needs to be substantially strengthened, and the finance section contains inaccuracies that must be fixed”. Protesters outside COP28 chanted, “This text is bullshit.” while climate change campaigners worldwide denounced the draft as an out-and-out scandal. Small island states at COP28 damned the draft as “a death warrant,” and some even cried whilst speaking against the draft. The EU states, who had joined the small island states before COP28 called for watertight fossil fuel phase out legislation, described the draft as “simply unacceptable”.
Though, all of this really shouldn’t be unexpected.
You see, just a week ago, OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) nations, including the UAE, which is hosting COP28, and whom Al Jaber heads up one of their largest oil companies, all agreed they would reject any COP28 deal that would reduce oil production. OPEC has 13 nations at the COP28 table, so this unilateral agreement has a sizeable impact on the final deal. This move shows that these states are willing to put their business interests ahead of the entire planet’s well-being.
However, this last-minute agreement shows just how scared oil companies are (bearing in mind that most OPEC states have nationalised oil companies, so these states are effectively oil companies). These companies and nations desperately tried to scupper phase out legislation at COP28. They spouted logically flawed rhetoric, pushed transparent pseudoscience, and flooded conferences with vast swathes of oil lobbyists, all in an attempt to protect their planet-wrecking business interests. But, to their dismay, this gargantuan effort couldn’t undermine the science or slow the global movement to phase out fossil fuels. I mean, look at how Al Jaber reacted to people calling out his bullshit “no science or scenarios” for fossil fuel phase out claim. He fully expected COP28 delegates to take his deeply flawed opinion and toe the line. Except they didn’t. And now Jaber and his cohorts are utterly terrified.
We are nearing the end of COP28, and well over 100 nations at the summit are calling for fossil fuel phase out to be a pillar of the COP28 deal. As there are less than 200 attending nations, this constitutes a democratic majority. The rest of the nations are mainly calling for fossil fuel phase down, with binging legislation to reduce our fossil fuel consumption. Meanwhile, less than 15 nations agree with the proposed deal, which has no binding resolution against the oil industry. As far as democratic processes go, it is painfully apparent what legislation should be written up in the COP28 deal.
But, this phoney deal shows that Al Jaber, the UAE and their OPEC comrades are willing to subvert this democratic process to achieve their ends. It has painted them as utterly amoral, science illiterate, self-serving to the point of self-destruction and utterly incapable of constructively engaging in climate processes.
But let’s give their alternative a chance, shall we?
You see, Al Jaber, his OPEC oil executives chums, and the tidal wave of oil lobbyists want to keep oil flowing but reduce emissions through offsets. This way, they can stay wealthy while “saving the planet.” I personally believe this is why Jaber proposed this bill, as he can be seen as “conceding” by amending it to include emissions restrictions on the oil industry. In contrast, if he just straight-up proposed this, it would be immediately thrown out.
But why would it be thrown out? Well, quite simply, you can’t offset oil emissions.
As I covered in a recent article, we have the technology to directly pull carbon dioxide out of the air and safely store it away, but it is cumbersome and damn expensive. To offset the 11.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year with this tech would cost $49.124 trillion (at today’s prices) for both the carbon capture plant and the vast solar farm needed to power. These sites are utterly massive and would take up the same land area as Greece.
The entire oil industry currently makes around $4 trillion in yearly profits. So, technically, the fossil fuel industry could afford to pay for this carbon capture over the next 50 years, but they would only be breaking even, and I doubt they would be happy to accept such a situation. What’s more, only around 50 years’ worth of fossil fuels are left on Earth. So, once this vast infrastructure has been paid for and the oil industry can, in theory, return to profitability, it would simply no longer exist.
As such, offsets are an utterly impractical and economically moronic solution. I think OPEC knows this and doesn’t intend on actually fully offsetting its emissions, and instead simply greenwash its way to “net-zero.” The only way to solve climate change is to solve the problem at its core and stop extracting oil.
What’s worse is that time is running out for us to make this monumental change.
A study from the University of Manchester into how soon we must phase out all fossil fuels to meet the Paris Agreement goals came to some utterly terrifying conclusions. Firstly, it found that all nations must ‘begin a rapid and just phase out of fossil fuel production’ immediately. Something which we are still miles away from achieving. It also found that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (as per the Paris Agreement), coal production in developed nations needs to fall by 50% within five years and be effectively eliminated by 2030; output of oil and gas in developed nations needs to be cut by 74% by 2030, and a complete fossil fuel phase out by 2034!
That’s right; somehow, the world has to phase out fossil fuels entirely in just 11 years to avoid a climate nightmare. Such a phase out would take years of planning and delicate execution to ensure we don’t incur massive economic or social upheaval.
But we can do it. The IEA recently found that the annual expenditure needed to reach net-zero by 2050 is equivalent to just 1% of the money currently poured into the energy sector annually. If this oil funding and oil profits are redirected to renewable infrastructure, EV subsidies, and even carbon-neutral synthetic fuels subsidies, we can easily hit this 2034 target. However, we need to kick-start this plan now! If we wait any longer, we simply can’t do it, and the world will be doomed to climate Armageddon.
So, is there a way to resolve the flaws with COP28? Possibly. The visceral reaction by many states to the appalling lack of action in the draft deal and the fact that over half of the states at COP28 support fossil fuel phase out means that the Al Jaber might have to yield and create a deal with such legislation. Otherwise, he might not be able to get any deal over the line. As such, there is still a thin sliver of hope that COP28 will deliver the climate action the planet desperately needs. Though, I’m not hopeful.
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