A masquerade for some, a historic opportunity for others, rarely has an annual UN climate conference (COP) caused as much tension as this 28th edition organized in Dubai, from November 30 to December 12. Pope Francis himself will be present at this global meeting – a first for a sovereign pontiff – to convey a message of unity for safeguarding in the name of “our common home”. And for good reason, the reasons for discord are numerous. First, the context is alarming. According to the latest report from the United Nations Environment Program, in the current state of climate policies, the planet is heading towards a warming of 3°C by the end of the century. Then, the host country, the United Arab Emirates, the seventh largest oil producer in the world, is the subject of strong disputes for its role in greenhouse gas emissions.
A major conflict of interest
Finally, the man chosen to chair this COP28 is divisive. In addition to his activities as Minister of Industry and Advanced Technologies of the United Arab Emirates, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber also chairs the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), the national oil company. An appointment which places climate negotiations “in an unprecedented conflict of interests”, according to Romain Ioualalen, head of international policies for the NGO Oil Change International. “Because the person responsible for leading the debates has a clear financial interest in prolonging oil production.”
According to the financial analysis group Bloomberg, the company chaired by Ahmed Al Jaber plans to increase its production by 25% to reach 5 million barrels per day by 2027. An investment strategy in energy fossil fuels, similar to those of its competitors, which goes directly against the recommendations of the International Energy Agency. Since 2021, this reference organization within the OECD has repeated in each of its reports “that no new oil, gas or coal deposit is compatible with the objective of 1.5 °C (warming planetary in accordance with the Paris agreement signed in 2015, Editor’s note)”. In vain.
A study published in 2022 in the journal Energy Policy identified 422 “carbon bombs” around the globe, fossil extraction projects in production or development, whose emission potential exceeds at least one gigatonne of CO2 each. These sites, including 194 gas or oil deposits, directly endanger the fight against global warming.
Faced with such potential profits and at the end of a year 2023 when global oil demand is heading towards a historic record of 102 million barrels per day, it goes without saying that oil companies are reluctant to allow a date of exit from fossil fuels appears in the final declaration of COP28. Instead of abandoning black gold, responsible for 30% of global CO₂ emissions, the Qatari minister is calling for making its exploitation cleaner by using carbon capture and storage techniques.
Very critical experts
Environmental NGOs and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) severely criticize these emerging technologies, which are very expensive and have unproven effectiveness. “Let’s face it. The problem is not just in the emissions linked to fossil fuels. It lies in the fossil fuels themselves, period,” said Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the UN, June 15, 2023, in a speech for the Financial Times to the attention of those he calls “the demolishers of the planet”.
In response to skeptics, Ahmed Al Jaber swaps his hat as a hydrocarbon producer for that of president of Masdar, the Emirati national renewable energy company. In his preparatory letter addressed to the 197 participating countries, he calls for “tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030”. An objective approved by the International Energy Agency and supported by the G20 member countries.
The ratification of such an agreement in Dubai would constitute a victory both for the climate and for the United Arab Emirates because, as Marine Pouget, international governance manager for the Climate Action Network, points out: “When a country organizes a COP, it wishes obtain diplomatic success, and the petromonarchies are no exception to the rule.” But will these green ambitions supplant the decline of black gold at the negotiating table?