Monday, July 15, 2024

COP 28 Head Pitches Emission Cuts with No Fossil Reduction as Countries Mull Global Renewables Target

COP 28 President Sultan al Jaber is under fire for a “dangerous” pitch to reduce fossil fuel emissions without reducing oil and gas production, even as countries work toward adopting a global renewable energy target when the annual UN climate summit convenes in Dubai November 30-December 12.

There’s been no shortage of skepticism about the fast progress needed at this year’s COP, ever since the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) was announced as COP 28 host and appointed al Jaber, CEO of both the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and renewable energy powerhouse Masdar, as conference chair. Now, al Jaber is raising flags with remarks about reducing fossil fuel emissions but not production, while building an industry alliance that would only aim to phase out about one-fifth or less of that carbon pollution.

“We must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, while phasing up viable, affordable, zero-carbon alternatives,” al Jaber told the annual Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin earlier this month. That statement “was widely interpreted to mean using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to capture CO2 emissions, and not completely phasing out fossil fuels themselves,” the Guardian reports.

“The fact that ‘emissions’ is in that sentence is very worrisome,” shot back former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres, one of the key architects of the 2015 Paris agreement, on the Outrage and Optimism podcast.

“So he is trying to dance on two dance floors at the same time. He is trying to say: ‘Look, those of us who are producers of fossil fuels will be responsible for our emissions through enhanced carbon capture and storage. And we, or the COP presidency, will also support the zero-carbon alternatives’,” Figueres said.

“The fact that he thinks the [fossil] energy used today will continue to be part of the global energy mix for the ‘foreseeable future’, I can see that from a UAE perspective,” she added. “But from a COP president perspective, it’s very dangerous…

“When you are the president of the COP, you cannot put forward the position of the country that you’re coming from. You have to be able to be neutral.”

Not long after al Jaber’s remarks in Berlin, Climate Home News reported that the UAE was working on a new initiative, provisionally called the Global Decarbonization Alliance, to set a 2050 deadline to bring emissions from extracting oil and gas to net-zero. Climate Home pointed out that, just like past industry efforts, the alliance appeared to focus on climate pollution from extracting oil and gas, not the far larger emissions that occur when the product reaches its final destination and is used as directed.

“Roughly 80-95% of the oil and gas sector’s emissions are from the use of their products but the initiative would only target those from extracting them,” Climate Home wrote.

Oil Change International campaigner Romain Ioualalen said the alliance amounted to “recycling” past industry initiatives that haven’t achieved much. “They are talking about everything but the one thing that really matters in driving down emissions, which is reducing oil and gas production,” he told Climate Home. “As long as these are not the terms of discussion, it can’t be described as a legitimate effort.”

Meanwhile, European Union leaders are making the case for a global renewable energy goal that “would imply a drop-off in pollution as wind and solar eat into fossil fuels’ share of the energy supply,” Bloomberg Green reports.

“Last month the EU agreed to boost its own renewables to 42.5% of the energy mix by 2030,” the news agency writes. But “the International Energy Agency, which will be involved with coming up with a global renewable target, estimated that the share of those technologies in the total global energy supply was a mere 5.2% in 2021.”

Bloomberg says EU politicians are working toward a strong renewables target in anticipation of a continuing push from al Jaber to emphasize emissions but not production cuts for fossil fuels. The initiative appears to be built in part on a (literally) eleventh-hour “grand bargain”, proposed by EU First Vice President Frans Timmermans toward the end of last year’s COP 27 negotiations, that would have seen rich countries immediately set up a loss and damage fund for the world’s most vulnerable nations, in exchange for a pledge to peak greenhouse gas emissions before 2025 and phase down oil and gas production as well as coal.

That pitch “came after days of sluggish talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, bogged down by fights over how to compensate developing countries bearing the brunt of climate change through flooding, droughts, and other disasters,” Bloomberg wrote at the time.

“The European Union offer would include a commitment to immediately establish a new loss and damage response fund with details worked out over the next year as well as a commitment to examine debt and reform the multilateral development banks,” the news agency wrote. “There also would be a pledge to ensure all financial flows are aligned with the Paris Agreement commitment to keep global warming to 1.5°C.”

In return, “countries would vow to peak global emissions before 2025 and phase down all fossil fuels—not just coal, which was spelled out in the Glasgow climate pact last year. That would come with some accountability, in the form of an annual report on progress toward implementing the phase down of unabated coal power.”

That deal failed after intense lobbying by Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia persuaded the Egyptian presidency to abandon it, Bloomberg says. But Timmermans still sees faster, deeper emissions cuts as the key to success in international climate negotiations.

“There’s no way—no way—we’re going to achieve any of our goals if we do not do more on mitigation,” he told the Petersberg Dialogue. Without a stronger commitment to reduce emissions, “whatever we do on finance, on adaptation, on loss and damage, will fall short of what we need.”

But before Sultan al Jaber and his Global Decarbonization Alliance interpret that as an endorsement for their plans at COP 28, some key voices in international climate circles are already expressing strong skepticism that CCS technology is ready for prime time.

“I don’t think carbon capture is going to get us there,” said Jennifer Morgan, the former Greenpeace International executive director now serving as Germany’s climate envoy. “What we really need to see, and I think that countries of the world will bring that forward, is the end of the fossil fuel era and the buildup of renewables.”

United States climate envoy John Kerry told the Associated Press he has “serious questions” about whether CCS can deliver.

“If you’re able to abate the emissions, capture it,” he said. “But we don’t have that at scale yet. And we can’t sit here and just pretend we’re going to automatically have something we don’t have today. Because we might not. It might not work.”

Kerry said this year’s COP could “quite possibly” produce an agreement to phase out “unabated” oil and gas—a reference to fossil production facilities with no carbon capture equipment bolted on. But he still questioned whether CCS will be “price-competitive” in time to nearly halve global emissions by 2030.

“We can’t let the wish or the hope govern common sense here,” Kerry told AP. “If we know that we can get the job done by deploying more renewables and current technology, we ought to be doing that.”

This article first appeared in The Energy Mix, and is republished under a Creative Commons License.

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