Cop28: Fossil fuels are a climate problem

A high-level UN agreement would mean the end of coal, oil and gas. The real test is whether the manufacturers back it up with measures. However, from its beginning, COP28 seemed like a satire.

Some 100.000 politicians, diplomats, lobbyists, businessmen, investors, activists, scientists, political scientists and journalists from around the world have registered to attend the two-week climate summit hosted by the authoritarian oil state of Dubai, famous for its skyscrapers and greatness.

The summit's chairman, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, is the chief executive of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Petroleum Company, which is planning a $150 billion oil and gas expansion.

The United Arab Emirates also invests in renewable energy: the Noor Energy 1 concentrated solar power plant covers an area of ​​more than 6.000 football fields, but the highlight is most visible in the city center: Dubai City is the largest gas-fired power plant in the world.

The event took place in an area built for the recent World's Fair. He was preparing to participate in the big trade show that, for most delegates, was the annual climate conference. More than 150 world leaders initially arrived, some of them on private planes, and stayed only a few hours. Anthony Albanese, who is under pressure on many fronts at home, is not among them. Neither Joe Biden, nor Xi Jinping. But for the most part, it wasn't a leadership event.

Beyond the confusion, the policy has an important goal: negotiations between delegates from nearly 200 countries on how to advance a global response to the escalating climate crisis.
The result – in the long tradition of climate summits – achieved after many sleepless nights and schedule delays – generated mixed emotions.

COP28 could make a difference

The good news is that Cop28 recognized for the first time that Fossil fuels cause a serious climate problem.

A "majority" of countries support phasing out fossil fuels, but the consensus required by the United Nations process has not been reached. Saudi Arabia and its allies in the OPEC oil alliance are the most obvious opponents, but other big emitters are happy to hide behind them in the shadows.

Instead, the final Cop28 text calls on countries to contribute to a transition "from fossil fuels to a just, orderly and equitable energy system, galvanizing action over the next decade."

" Australian Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen was instrumental in reaching the compromise, proposing it in a tense plenary session.

Those last words may seem obvious to some, but just a few years ago it seemed impossible for a climate summit agreement to name and criticize fossil fuels, including oil and gas.
This was a time of some progress.

It doesn't demand anything, but it will help motivate new action by governments and large institutional investors looking for signals about where and when to spend trillions of dollars.

In 2015, commitments were made in the Paris Climate Agreement, according to which countries will strive to limit global warming to 1,5°C above pre-industrial levels. He told investors that the green energy market would grow. This will be one more step in this direction.

The bad news is that the agreement does not go far enough to reflect the urgency needed to stop worsening climate damage, and contains language that will help those who want to delay or avoid action.

Australia is expected to exceed the UAE's $150 million commitment.

This year is the warmest on record.

It brings extreme weather and heat-related disasters, destroying lives and livelihoods on most continents.

Investment in renewable energy has skyrocketed, but it often adds to fossil fuels rather than replacing them.

Global greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil and gas continue to rise.

Petrostats continues to plan to scale up fossil fuel production. Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, is right to accuse governments of saying one thing and doing another.

At the heart of the debate in Dubai is a global assessment of progress that shows the world is not on track to keep a 1,5°C temperature rise within our reach.

The so-called UAE Consensus Agreement recognizes this and outlines what is needed to solve the problem.
However, there is still a long way to go before this opportunity becomes a reality.

Anne Rasmussen, chief negotiator for the 39-member Alliance of Small Island States of Samoa, summed up the situation at Wednesday's closing plenary session: "We have made gradual progress in operations.

"It's business as usual when what we really need is an exponential and incremental change in our actions and support."

He is right and the truth is that the police procedure remains like this. Multilateralism is a difficult task that requires consensus where there is none. Usually the major country that promotes the lowest common denominator position wins.

On the one hand, this makes the UAE's fossil fuel deal an even more notable achievement: no one spoke out against weakening it in the last plenary session.

Perhaps they feel they do not need to do this because the agreement has enough exit provisions that polluters can rely on.

These include references to carbon capture, utilization and storage (a niche technology used in Australia and other countries to justify increased use of fossil fuels that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere) and “conversion fuels” (a phrase promoted by Russia) and the fossil fuel industry is code for more gas.