Pressure builds to eliminate fossil fuel use as oil executive takes over climate talks

By Isaac M November 30, 2023

Pressure to phase out fossil fuels mounted Thursday on the oil company chief who took over fragile international climate negotiations that opened in Dubai amid concerns about what some say is contradictory dual roles.

The climate talks newly installed boss began on the hot seat and not just because the planet keeps smashing heat records this year. Days before the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP28) began, reports published meeting preparation notes that linked efforts by the United Arab Emirates national oil company ADNOC to push fossil fuel sales at the same time its CEO and new COP president, Sultan al-Jaber, was meeting to curb climate change. Burning coal, oil and gas is a chief cause of global warming.

Even though al-Jaber vehemently denied the revelations from the BBC and others, several climate negotiations experts say it will likely change the tenor and maybe even the outcome of the two weeks of intense negotiations, taking place about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from where five offshore oil fields flow.

“I think the pressure on the COP president to deliver is pretty clear and has been clear for months,” German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan told The Associated Press. “That’s the focus here to deliver on really a course correction.”

Climate negotiations historian Joanna Depledge said, “whether true or not, the revelations are embarrassing, but I don’t think they put COP in jeopardy. To the contrary, the hope is that the pressure on UAE will tighten.”

And that may mean the UAE will contribute more money to a newly established compensation fund to climate change victims and maybe even tighter language on fossil fuel use, Depledge said.

“It’s understandable if the COP hosts, and other fossil fuel nations, were starting to feel the heat on this issue,” said Mohamed Adow, of Power Shift Africa. “Fossil fuels are after all the elephant in the room and these countries can’t go on trying to pretend they are not a problem. This extra scrutiny is certainly welcome.”

Morgan said Germany and Europe were steadfast in their support for a phase out of fossil fuels and on Wednesday U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said the United States continues to favor a phase out.

A spokesman for the COP presidency office said, “Any pressure felt by the COP Presidency stems from the urgency to deliver ambitious action to course correct and keep 1.5C (the 2015 adopted international climate threshold) within reach.”

Al-Jaber’s two positions were already a source of mistrust. The news coverage brings even more attention to the role of coal, oil and gas in climate change at climate talks and highlights efforts to eliminate use of fossil fuels said, World Resources Institute president Ani Dasgupta.

“On one hand, the disclosures erode trust in the COP president and that will make forging a deal harder,” said former U.S. State Department climate lawyer Nigel Purvis, CEO of Climate Advisers. “On the other hand, the UAE now has even more reason to push for a fossil fuel phase-down agreement to show the world that it is serious about becoming the first post-petroleum OPEC country.”

Climate Analytics CEO Bill Hare said the UAE has pushed for a less stringent “phase down” instead of a stricter “phase out” of fossil fuels. He called the phase down phrase “window dressing” for increased oil and gas drilling.

Recent reporting “absolutely reinforces everyone’s concerns about greenwashing,” Hare said Thursday. “And that means that the COP president needs to stand back from his oil interests and look at the interests of the planet as a whole.”

Hare, like Dasgupta, Purvis, Depledge and others, said in the end the reporting will mean al-Jaber and oil interests will have to shepherd a stronger agreement to get rid of fossil fuels.

United Nations climate chief Simon Stiell told negotiators that he was sick of the “baby steps” taken so far to fight climate change, challenging them to do far more and faster.

“If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline,” Stiell said. “And we choose to pay with people’s lives.”

Minutes after taking the gavel on the first day of climate negotiations, al-Jaber referred to the need for change in the way the world gets its energy.

“I know there are strong views on the idea of including language on fossil fuels,’’ al-Jaber said. “I ask you all to work together. Be flexible. Find common ground. Come forward with solutions and achieve consensus.”

Yet he also talked about the “bold choice” of including oil companies more in climate talks and the push for net zero industry emissions by 2050.

WRI’s Dasgupta said there’s extra pressure right now because globally multilateralism – when countries work together on issues – is under attack, especially because of recent wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the way the COVID-19 vaccine was distributed. Add to that record heat this year, he said.

“We’ve seen already at 1.2 degrees warming this year the catastrophic heatwaves, floods and other events that have happened around the world,” Climate Analytics Hare said. “We are facing epic wreckage here. If we can’t get this problem under control.”

Al-Jaber said he hopes negotiators over the next two weeks can change things.

“Let’s restore faith in multilateralism,” al-Jaber said. “Let’s deliver some good news to the world that really needs it today.”


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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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