Friday, 22 September 2023

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Fossil fuelled: Climate talks begin with spotlight on oil chief

PARIS, FRANCE — The future of fossil fuels — the leading source of planet-heating emissions — will face scrutiny at UN climate negotiations Monday with an under-fire Emirati oil chief poised to step into the driver’s seat.

As the world struggles to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, pressure is on the UAE to arrive in Germany with ambitious plans for its presidency of Dubai’s December COP28 climate summit.

The choice of Sultan al-Jaber — head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, or ADNOC — to head COP28 has triggered calls from campaigners and lawmakers for him to step aside.

Al-Jaber favours the rapid development of renewable energy. But he has also focused on tackling carbon emissions — with controversial technologies to capture CO2 — rather than reducing the use of fossil fuels, insisting they will have a key role in the energy transition.

“The presidency needs to quickly show where its ambition lies: ramping up the renewables is part of it but recognising that won’t be enough for this COP,” said Laurence Tubiana, head of the European Climate Foundation.

She added it was critical to “recognise that the fossil era is ending”.

On Sunday, the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, responsible for overseeing the preparations for COP28, met with US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry, in a meeting attended by al-Jaber.

The three reviewed UAE-US initiatives including “The UAE-US Partnership for Accelerating Clean Energy (PACE), which will catalyse $100 billion in financing,” a statement said.

Last year’s UN climate summit in Egypt reached a landmark deal to help vulnerable countries cope with climate-enhanced disasters, but failed to toughen up commitments to tackle emissions, despite backing from more than 80 countries.

The Bonn meeting will strive to close the gap on a past-due promise of $100 billion per year to help poorer countries make their economies greener and prepare for future climate shocks.

Observers will also look for signs of how nearly 200 nations represented will respond to the first-ever “Global Stocktake”, due in September, of progress made in reducing carbon emissions.

The assessment will echo a UN report warning that the world may cross the 1.5C warming threshold within a decade. The report also said existing fossil fuel infrastructure could tip global temperatures over the edge if its carbon pollution is allowed to escape into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, emissions — which must drop nearly 50 per cent by 2030 to keep the Paris climate treaty goals within reach — continue to rise.

Existential threat

The 2015 Paris Deal calls on countries to limit global warming “well below” two degrees Celsius, or preferably 1.5C, a safer limit that would still have severe implications for millions.

It does not say how the world will meet that challenge.

Among the most vocal advocates of slashing fossil fuel use are small island nations that could be wiped off the map within decades by rising sea levels.

“Fossil fuels are certainly the main culprit in this climate change fight,” Samuelu Laloniu, special envoy of the government of Tuvalu, told AFP in Paris.

“What is at stake for Tuvalu is the entire country.”

Tuvalu last year joined South Pacific neighbour Vanuatu in backing a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Recent years have seen a crescendo of temperature records and climate-driven disasters worldwide, mostly in poorer regions least responsible for the problem.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked a surge in gas investments, even if renewables are also booming.

In May, the G7 group of wealthy nations committed to “accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels”, but defended investment in the gas sector as a “temporary response” to the energy crisis.

“Unabated” means without the technology to capture CO2 emissions before they reach the atmosphere.


One issue with broad support across nations is the IEA call to triple new renewable capacity by 2030.

The intergovernmental body projects that clean energy investment — including renewables and nuclear — will hit a record $1.7 trillion in 2023. Fossil fuel investment is still predicted to exceed US$1 trillion.

IEA chief Fatih Birol has lambasted the oil and gas industry — with a record net income of $4 trillion last year — for its lacklustre renewables investment despite the “unprecedented cash windfall”.

The COP28 presidency has pushed back on criticism of al-Jaber, citing his work in the renewables sector.

But he heads to Bonn just weeks after more than a hundred members of the United States Congress and the European Parliament issued an extraordinary demand for him to be removed from his post.

Oil producer the UAE might stop using its oil but does not plan to stop pumping it for the international market, said Karim Elgendy, associate fellow at Chatham House.

He told a briefing it might be “inclined to keep saying things like the world will need oil simply because it needs to maintain that customer”.


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