The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, more commonly referred to as COP28, will be the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference, held from November 30th until December 12th at Expo City, Dubai.
The question arises, will the aftermath of COP28 help to save the planet? But, on the other hand, does the planet really need help, or is it human civilization that’s in trouble? After all, the planet has been thru worse, the Permian-Triassic Extinction 250 mil years ago, and it survived. Homo sapiens wouldn’t have made it as 95% of marine life was wiped-out and almost all vertebrates died. But, then again, that was 250 million years ago.
It should be noted that 30 years of COPs have yielded very little progress towards reduction or regulation or removal of greenhouse gases. Governments have never taken it seriously enough. Meanwhile, over the same time frame, CO2 has increased by 60% with never a down year except 2020 when greenhouse gases dropped by 4.6% during the worldwide covid lockdown only to snap back to a new record level in 2021.
Greenhouse gases have been on a relentless track, up and away, throughout the age of industrialization, trapping global heat, increasing global temperatures, distorting jet streams, disrupting the climate system into a mad frenzy. All of which continues to harass the scientific community to come up with answers to a perceived threat of human extinction, the planet’s 6th, but maybe it’ll only be partial extinction or no extinction. Nobody really knows for sure how events like these turn out. But can people survive without life-sourcing ecosystems, like rainforests, wetlands, the Great Barrier Reef, vibrant rivers, and this: according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 75% of Spain’s land is battling climatic conditions that could lead to desertification?
Leading up to COP28 more than 70 environment ministers and 100 national delegations have been meeting in Abu Dhabi during the hottest year ever recorded on a global basis. Delegates must wonder if a petrostate can deliver a low carbon globe. The question answers itself. The president of the upcoming COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, who has a reputation as a divisive negotiator, is head of Adnoc, the UAE state oil company.
According to BBC News, Greta “How Dare You” Thunberg is in a state of shock, questioning the entire COP process, which is understandable. In sharp contrast to Greta, Mr. Al Jaber claims the climate change imbroglio can only be resolved with the help of the oil industry with an eye towards limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C. Of course, this has been the publicly stated objective of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Why would the host of COP28 say anything else? But still, it’s interesting that Al Jaber claims the problem can only be solved by help of the oil industry.
Even more interesting yet, Al Jaber admits that emissions must be cut by 43% by 2030 because that’s what the science says must be done. Nevertheless, Adnoc has plans to increase oil production by 600,000 barrels per day over exactly the same time frame. The oil and gas giant will be spending $150B for expansion of production. Even more confusing yet, Al Jaber claims: “The world economy needs the additional production as emissions fall.” What is missing here?
According to a recent interview with Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, regarding COP28: “The fossil fuel industry has now completely succeeded in corrupting the COP process… what we’ve got is a COP process that has been completely taken over by the fossil fuel companies.”
Complicating matters even more, the European Union (EU) has staked a position, along with several other countries, claiming that “no compromise is possible on cutting fossil fuel production,” in direct opposition to Al Jaber, especially as Adnoc plans an increase of 600,000 barrels per day.
Another festering bone of contention is a funding agreement by developed nations for poor undeveloped nations to help pay for the damage incurred by climate change, amounting to some $100 billion per year owed by developed countries, yet big question marks remain about actual payments and seriousness to fulfil commitments. This was supposed to be a big win at the last COP but discussions about how to implement it have already broken down in preliminary talks at Abu Dhabi.
According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), COP28 will have a first-ever Global Stocktake report, which will be presented at the proceedings, detailing progress since the all-important Paris Agreement of 2015. That report, already published in September, according to WRI, “is truly a damaging report card.” It’s supposed to serve as a blueprint for what to do, or not do, for nations moving forward.
According to WRI: “At COP28, countries must deliver a rapid response plan to the Global Stocktake that transforms every major system on Earth at a pace and depth not seen before, while also improving people’s lives and advancing climate justice.”
The success of COP28 hinges on whether the summit makes progress in four key areas:
And of utmost importance, it’s expected that the fundamental role of fossil fuels will take center stage at COP28. Already, several countries have made “phasing out fossil fuels” a central goal for negotiations. This could be a showstopper.
Moreover, according to data provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA), to reach net-zero by 2050, green energy equivalents must collectively reduce energy-related emissions by 15 gigatons by 2030. And assuming carbon capture and storage (CCS) is part of the mix, it would capture only 1 of 15 gigatons by the end of this decade. Therefore, and this is key: “Clearly, carbon capture and storage technology must not be used as an excuse to expand fossil fuel production or slow the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.” (IEA)
Carbon capture effectiveness is very suspect with a long history of failure. “CCS is ‘a mature technology that’s failed,’ according to Bruce Robertson, an energy finance analyst who has studied the top projects globally. ‘Companies are spending billions of dollars on these plants and they’re not working to their metrics.” (Bloomberg, Oct.23, 2023)
Expected Fossil Fuel Industry ‘Commitments’ at COP28
According to the World Resources Institute: “It’s essential that this UN climate summit not become a platform for pledges by the oil and gas industry that fail to tackle the core issue at stake. At COP28, the UAE is expected to announce a commitment from at least 20 major oil and gas companies to reduce methane leakage and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – but only for their own operations, not for the fuel they sell. By not addressing the so-called “Scope 3” emissions of the fuel produced from their oil and gas extraction and then sold, the oil and gas industry is sidestepping the emissions that account for up to 95% of its contribution to the climate crisis.”
It is premature to draw conclusions, but one can assume, guess, surmise that COP28 will not deliver what’s really needed to seriously tackle global warming. Assuming “expected fossil fuel commitments,” as stated above and no further concessions by the fossil fuel industry, maybe future COPs should be limited to addressing adaptation measures for rapidly rising sea levels, like how to build really big, strong, secure seawalls and other survival measures.
In fact, that’s already happening: Up and down US coastlines, cities as diverse as New York, Charleston, Norfolk, Houston and San Francisco are staring down the same dilemma: tall concrete walls could technically protect homes and property from seas rising because of climate change, but the proposals are so potentially hideous that some locals are rejecting them… for example, in oil-rich Texas the $29bn project proposed for Galveston, Texas. (Source: Coastal Residents Fear ‘Hideous’ Seawalls Will Block Waterfront Views, The Guardian, January 2023)
Thus, the reality of climate change/global heat is already making its presence known by destroying waterfront views where well-to-do people live. Just wondering when seawall construction companies will do IPOs on Wall Street?
To achieve that, key markers must be met by 2030 and 2050 in terms of reduced emissions and mitigation efforts. According to the IPCC: Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030 to achieve no more than 1.5°C pre-industrial.
What are the costs? Please be seated… accordingly, “Bloomberg NEF, Bloomberg’s green-energy research team, estimates in a new report this week it could cost $196 trillion in investments to zero out the world’s carbon emissions by 2050, as many countries have pledged to do, to avoid society-destroying global warming.”
And, over the short-term: “BNEF suggests annual green investments will need to nearly triple to $6.9 trillion by 2030 if we are to have any hope of hitting net zero by 2050. This will include governments, businesses and consumers swapping most of the world’s fleet of gas-powered vehicles for electric ones, building charging stations for those vehicles and replacing fossil fuel-powered energy with wind, solar and other renewables, with new grids to connect them all,” Ibid.
However, in direct opposition to BNEF’s analyses, according to a new UN report, a lot of that $6.9B would be offset and neutralized, assuming it really happens, which is questionable, but regardless, here’s the fossil fuel offsets by 2030: “Plans (of fossil fuel companies) would lead to 460% more coal production, 83% more gas, and 29% more oil in 2030 than it was possible to burn if global temperature rise was to be kept to the internationally agreed 1.5C. The plans would also produce 69% more fossil fuels than is compatible with the riskier 2C target.”
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at [email protected].