Bonn – June 12-14, 2023: Opinion and reporting by Mathew Carr
It’s true I might regret writing this headline.
Yet oil companies absolutely should be worried about losing their licence to operate, or of being nationalized. They should be willing to dramatically cut or otherwise deal with their heat-trapping emissions.
They’ve had a great run. They are making billions in profit every week, even as the world’s fragile climate is in danger of collapse.
Now, some politicians are calling for the United Arab Emirates, host of UN climate talks in December, to withdraw Sultan Al Jaber’s appointment as president of those negotiations, called COP28.
Al Jaber is the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), which recently announced a plan to significantly expand its oil and gas production (yet also has a cool video explaining how green hydrogen is the future). He’s also a sustainable investment pioneer, creating Masdar, a green city.
“The decision to name the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies as president of COP28 jeopardizes the opportunity for serious and productive climate negotiations,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry, who sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Simon Stiell — urging the officials to rid COP28 and all future international climate talks of “persistent interference from the fossil fuel industry.”
I reckon the Sultan should be allowed to prevail and have his chance to succeed where 30 years of talks have so far failed to definitively halt the increase in man-made emissions. The fossil-fuel industry wants to transition away from unabated CO2 and it wants market rules that do it systematically and quickly.
Here are three reasons why.
1. Ownership of the problem
The first thing to say is the president of a UN climate meeting isn’t really in charge.
One delegate Monday from an African nation at intersessional talks in Bonn told me that US delegates were behaving like they were in charge of the discussions this week, even though Egypt currently holds the presidency.
The rules of UN climate meetings say all decisions must be agreed by consensus, which does explain why the talks have progressed so slowly during the past 30 years.
So Al Jaber’s ability to slow down or speed up the process will be limited.
Just think about Whitehouse and Aubry’s own language: “Jeopardizes the opportunity for serious and productive climate negotiations.”
Plainly that is simply not true. An oil man will likely have the empathy to tweak another oil man’s priorities because he is in the same dilemma. A Saudi Arabian envoy may get serious with the Sultan while he or she might not be as productive with a politician with a less-familiar background.
Notice also the phrase “persistent interference from the fossil fuel industry.” It’s only logical that fossil fuel companies want to extend their era when they contend they CAN do that safely.
Having a fossil-fuel executive at the top might take some of the political jeopardy out of the talks and make them more pragmatic.
For instance oil companies might be more willing to cut back on pollution if they can make money out of storing CO2 or by turning water into green hydrogen. They can sense the opportunity in making electrolysis machines that do just that. Adnoc has started building this business, so it knows.
Other oil companies are very keen on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and placing it in disused oil fields, in bricks, under the ocean, anywhere it will reliably stay without heating the planet. Getting investment right now into these technologies will start the process of bringing down their cost. Fossil fuels are not evil in themselves. Indeed, they are very old trees and plants.
This science does not appear to satisfy Christiana Figueres, who was executive secretary of the UNFCCC and pivotal to the delivery of the landmark Paris agreement in 2015.
I do understand why. She was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying about Al Jaber: “So he is trying to dance on two dancefloors 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.’”
I would counter that one can indeed dance on both floors and that sort of dancing is probably needed — stopping emissions from getting to the atmosphere is the key point. Anything that does that job needs to be deployed urgently. Al Jaber knows this and that knowledge will stand him in good stead.
One of Saudi Arabia’s envoys yesterday told the climate talks in Bonn that it was against any “just transition” language that mentions a decline in fossil fuels. It’s a decline in unabated emissions that’s key, he said.
Environmental lobby groups are still talking about ending fossil fuels. Some are against carbon credits and many say carbon capture and storage is a dangerous distraction.
I put it to Greta Thunberg, the famous swedish activist, on Tuesday at the Bonn climate talks that such a narrative is actually delaying climate action because it is denying powerful corporations the right to do what they want to do to help solve the crisis.
In a press conference, she had just labelled fossil fuels a “death sentence” and carbon capture was merely extending the era of fossil fuels. “I don’t think we’re standing in the way for calling things what they actually are,” she said in response to my question.
There are also credible allegations that some in the US intelligence community and military industrial complex have been covering up electro-magnetic technology derived from intact UFO craft for about 80 years. I asked Thunberg how would she react if that were true? She laughed.
2. Using all the tools in Paris
Should Al Jaber use all the articles in the Paris climate deal that give flexibility, then that will demonstrate real global leadership. His challenge is huge, as this snip from Climate Action Tracker shows.
UAE climate plan ‘highly insufficient’
The UAE is investing more than $100 billion to increase its oil production by nearly 1 million barrels per day over the next four years. Emissions from UAE are set to be about double where they should be under the tracker’s analysis of what its “fair share” of the global carbon budget actually is. The capital spending is five times the UAE’s renewable spending through 2035, according to Politico.
But if Al Jaber does use articles 6.2 and 6.4 (and others) of the Paris deal to cleverly help set other nations on a clean path in return for using their share of the global CO2 budget, that’s global leadership. That’s what carbon trading is meant to allow. That will lower the cost of saving the climate. The problem is, there is hardly any space left in the atmosphere for heat-trapping gas, so it must be done extremely urgently.
3. Loving fossil fuels as they run off
Al Jaber’s biggest opportunity is to show the politicians who ultimately make the decisions at UN and national level that bravery will be rewarded in the face of an existential crisis. The acuteness of the danger we are in is highlighted in the tracker snip, above. The 1.5C limit is an effective carbon cap.
Politicians must know their legacy is at stake and they probably will become demonised in future history books for not acting with more urgency.
Politicians everywhere are scared more immediately of fossil-fuel job losses at home while being seen by their voters to help out other nations financially for not using their country’s carbon budgets.
That selfish politics must be challenged and Al Jaber can do it, if he wants to show real leadership. Clean energy creates as many, if not more, jobs — especially in the investment phase.
Fossil fuel prices will come down as demand drops because industry capacity will exceed demand. It’s inevitable. The only question is when. By reversing or scaling back his country’s audacious $100 billion expansion plan, Al Jaber can show the global industry some love by not adding to the coming oversupply.
Convincing some people won’t be easy and may be impossible. [Many commentators including Arjun Murti, who sits on the ConocoPhillips board, simply ignore planetary boundaries. Check out his recent question: “Why do some US and Canadian politicians, policy makers, and activists want to weaken the standing of their own oil and gas companies in a world that continues to include OPEC+? We have no idea.” Saving the climate does not even occur to them.]
Al Jaber can remind Murti, former President Trump and others that saving the climate can be done while showing fossil fuels at least some portion of love.
Instead of spending so much on new oil, Al Jaber can use it instead on more electrolysers!
(Adds Greta Thunberg comments)
SEN. WHITEHOUSE, MEP AUBRY LEAD TRANSATLANTIC LETTER CALLING FOR CLIMATE TALKS FREE OF FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY INTERFERENCE
In lead-up to COP28, 133 U.S. and European elected officials urge ouster of oil executive as president of upcoming climate talks. Letter also encourages UNFCCC to require companies participating in COP to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry today sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Simon Stiell urging the officials to rid COP28 and all future international climate talks of persistent interference from the fossil fuel industry. The transatlantic letter, signed by 133 members of Congress and the European Parliament, was delivered as countries prepare for the Bonn Climate Change Conference in early June, a precursor to COP28 this winter.
The signatories called on U.S., EU, and UN officials to push the UAE to withdraw Sultan Al Jaber’s appointment as COP28 president. Al Jaber is the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which recently announced a plan to significantly expand its oil and gas production. The decision to name the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies as president of COP28 jeopardizes the opportunity for serious and productive climate negotiations..
The letter also requests that the UNFCCC require companies participating in COPs to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement that discloses climate-related lobbying, campaign contributions, and funding of trade associations and organizations active on energy and climate issues. According to one analysis, at least 636 lobbyists from the oil and gas industries registered to attend COP27 last year.
“COPs offer the largest and most important venue to find international agreement on ways to solve the climate crisis,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “Companies participating should be required to file audited climate political footprint statements to ensure transparency at the world’s major forum for leading the planet to safety in the race against climate change.”
“For billions of people, the outcome of COP28 and ensuing international climate negotiations will make the difference between life and death, chaos and solidarity,” said MEP Aubry. “Corporate greed and lobbyists’ lies have led us into this climate crisis. We must prevent private commercial interests from interfering in politics and regain ownership of our future.”
“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has been well aware of the dangers of climate change. Despite this, they have continually promoted climate denial, downplayed their role in emitting greenhouse gas pollution, and have created countless roadblocks on our path toward a clean energy future. The last thing we need is the chief executive of one of the planet’s largest oil and gas companies at the helm of global climate negotiations. For the sake of our planet, President Biden, President von der Leyen, Secretary General Guterres, and Executive Secretary Stiell ought to use their power to keep the influence of the dirty fossil industry out of UNFCCC processes,” said Rep. Huffman.
“The annual COP is critical to all people and nations to accelerate the response to the climate crisis,” said Rep. Castor. “We cannot afford for our decision-making to be delayed or influenced by the very companies that got us into this crisis. The health of our communities and the future of our planet hang in the balance. We must act swiftly, and we must put people over the profits and interests of big oil and gas.”
“Big Oil interests have contaminated our climate for decades—they shouldn’t be able to control our climate negotiations for a livable future,” said Sen. Markey. “As leaders from around the world come together to envision a world that promotes clean energy and climate justice, not pollution and profiteering, we must shut the door on the fossil fuel industry and keep COP28 free from their influence.”
The letter was cosigned by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Peter Welch (D-VT). 27 Members of the House of Representatives, including co-leads Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL), signed the letter. 99 Members of European Parliament also signed the letter. A coalition of over 425 civil society organizations worldwide, led by Corporate Accountability and Corporate Europe Observatory, have also endorsed the letter, as has the Sierra Club.
The full letter can be found here or below.
Dear President Biden, President von der Leyen, Secretary General Guterres, and Executive Secretary Stiell:
We, the undersigned Members of the United States Congress and Members of the European Parliament, write to urge you to address our profound concern that current rules governing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) permit private sector polluters to exert undue influence on UNFCCC processes. We address this letter to the executive leaders from the jurisdictions in which our respective bodies function and to UNFCCC leadership, who can work collectively to enact the requested reforms.
Ahead of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP28) climate negotiations, enacting policies that expose the influence of corporate polluters in UNFCCC meetings will help ensure that climate science takes precedence over climate delay and greenwashing. To that end, we urge you (i) to engage in diplomatic efforts to secure the withdrawal of the President-designate of COP28; and (ii) to take immediate steps to limit the influence of polluting industries, particularly major fossil fuel industry players whose business strategies lie at clear odds with the central goals of the Paris Agreement, at gatherings of the UNFCCC.
Last year, many of us attended or followed COP27 in Sharm-al-Sheikh, Egypt. While we applaud the United Nations for bringing tens of thousands of delegates together, leading to a historic agreement that will help developing countries deal with losses and damages from the impacts of climate change, the conference ultimately failed to secure consensus from Parties to cut greenhouse gases in line with the agreed global goals.
It did not escape our attention that at least 636 lobbyists from the oil and gas industries registered to attend last year’s COP—an increase of more than 25% over the previous year. When the number of attendees representing polluting corporate actors, which have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo, is larger than the delegations of nearly every country in attendance, it is easy to see how their presence could obstruct climate action.
As you know, there is no time to waste in sharply cutting carbon pollution on a global scale. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report states that, to limit warming to 1.5 °C, global emissions must halve by 2030. The planet has already warmed over 1.2°C, and our ability to reach the 1.5 °C goal is moving fast out of reach, with the IPCC pegging the current probability at just 38%. Maintaining the status quo would lead to a catastrophic 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century.
In this moment of great urgency, we must unblock the barriers that have kept us from advancing strong global collaboration to address climate change. One of the largest barriers to strong climate action has been and remains the political influence and obstruction of the fossil fuel industry and other major polluting industries. We have seen their negative influence in our home institutions; oil companies and their industry cheerleaders have spent billions of dollars lobbying both the European Parliament, other European institutions and Member States, and the U.S. Congress in order to obstruct or water down climate policy for years. While we acknowledge that engaging with industry can play a role, we must consider this particular industry’s track record on climate. Since at least the 1960s, the fossil fuel industry has known about the dangers of climate change posed by its products and, rather than supporting a transition to a clean energy future, has instead chosen to promote climate denial and spend millions of dollars to spread disinformation.
Over a half century later, not one of 39 major global oil and gas companies, with collective market capitalization of $3.7 trillion, has adopted a business strategy that would limit warming to safe levels. Several independent analyses agree that the sector is still not taking meaningful action to avoid the worst impacts of the crisis.
Even more outrageous, the global oil and gas industry is expanding amid blockbuster profits to the tune of $4 trillion last year. The sector has poured $160 billion into exploration for new fossil reserves since 2020, even as the IEA has stated that no new fossil fuel projects are compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. In short, in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “We seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat.” It is time to alter this dangerous course.
In June, world governments will gather in Bonn for the UN Climate Change Conference, a critical opportunity to advance progress towards implementation of the Paris Agreement, in anticipation of COP28. It is essential that we seize the opportunity to take actionable steps to address and protect climate policy from polluting interference by adopting concrete rules that limit the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists in the UNFCCC decision-making process.
First, we urge you to advocate for the United Arab Emirates to withdraw the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as President-designate of COP28. The decision to name as president of COP28 the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies—a company that has recently announced plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, representing the fifth largest increase in the world— risks undermining the negotiations. With commonsense reforms to help restore public faith in the COP process severely jeopardized by having an oil company executive at the helm, we respectfully submit that different leadership is necessary to help ensure that COP28 is a serious and productive climate summit.
Second, as some of us have already urged, we request that you institute new policies for corporate participation at COPs and UNFCCC processes more broadly, including requiring participating companies to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement that discloses climate-related lobbying, campaign contributions, and funding of trade associations and organizations active on energy and climate issues. These statements should be reviewed, publicly disclosed, and scrutinized prior to any engagement in UNFCCC climate policymaking processes. The UNFCCC should also consider additional measures to establish a robust accountability framework to protect against undue influence of corporate actors with proven vested interests that contradict the goals of the Paris Agreement; such a framework was proposed last year with broad-based international support from over 450 organizations around the world and five UNFCCC constituencies representing thousands of organizations and millions of people. These reforms would bring much-needed transparency to corporate climate-related political influencing activities around the world, and would help restore public faith that the COP process is not being abused by companies as an opportunity to greenwash.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue and for your ongoing dedication to building global support for reducing carbon pollution and combatting climate change. We welcome further engagement with you on this topic, and the lead co-signers are available to meet with you at a mutually agreeable time prior to the UN Climate Change Conference in June.
FT story here asking is COP28 destined to be a flop?