As we head towards the most consequential UN “Conference of the Parties” at the end of the month in Dubai, the future of climate and fossil fuels hangs in the balance. The UN-appointed president for COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, also heads ADNOC, the United Arab Emirate’s national oil company, one of the world’s largest producers. No previous COP President has been CEO of an energy company. His country’s prosperity depends on the production of fossil fuels.
Al Gore insists that Al Jaber is “patently unqualified” to lead the annual meeting to fight climate change. But Al Jaber also heads Masdar, UAE’s renewable energy company, with projects in more than 40 countries. He insists his loyalty is to the climate, not to oil, but will an oil boss be able to deliver progress on climate?
Climate activists insist that the COP deliver a dramatic reduction of fossil fuels, which seems unlikely, as fossil fuel use is still growing everywhere. A report last week from the UN shows the world on track to produce more than twice as much fossil fuel by 2030 as would allow us to meet the Paris Climate goals. ADNOC, for one, plans a 25 percent INCREASE in oil production by 2027, to 5 million barrels per day.
Historically, the fossil fuel industry has always put its own interests first. Over five decades, giant oil companies have suppressed research and actively lied, denying that burning fossil fuels causes global warming. They funded politicians to cheerlead fossil fuels (notably Joe Manchin and Kevin McCarthy). They lately backtracked on promised investments in renewable energy. And old school O&G tycoons fund dark money PACs that spread lies about clean energy, and oppose politicians who support it.
Pragmatists argue that the path to decarbonization must include fossil fuel players. The oil companies have the balance sheets and the expertise to lead the clean energy transition but so far they have not done so. Many observers see Sultan Al Jaber as just the guy to get them to reverse their course. “Honestly Dr. Sultan is in a much better position to be able to have the necessary conversations with the different players,” said Jonathan Banks of Clean Air Task Force at a pre-COP briefing.
Al Jaber has called for the “phasing down of fossil fuel emissions,” which is not the same as sharply curtailing fossil fuel use. Al Jaber will argue that the industry can continue to burn fossil fuels if its greenhouse gas emissions are “mitigated” through carbon capture and sequestration.
However, the oil companies are relying on NASCENT carbon capture and storage technology which is not presently economic. The current cost of removing CO2 at the smokestack is at least $200 a ton. At that cost, capturing just 1 billion tons of CO2 would cost $200 billion. To make a real dent in the 30 billion tons of annual emissions, you’d need to spend multiples of $200 billion.
Watch for news and updates on COP28 from our Senior Editor David Kirkpatrick who will be on the ground in Dubai later this month.