Environmental activists stage a protest with a earth globe during a demonstration at the venue of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on Dec. 6, 2023/AFP
LONDON: Climate activists say a record number of lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry are attending the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, as the negotiations intensify over whether the world should commit to a complete phaseout of coal, oil and gas.
Around 70,000 delegates are attending COP28, among them heads of state, politicians, scientists and campaigners — all advocating a myriad array of interests and ideas.
Despite the complexities, the summit focus appears to be narrowing on a key question: Do we need to ban fossil fuels outright?
Coal, oil and gas are blamed for much of global warming but are also the driving force behind many economies, including that of summit host United Arab Emirates.
The latest figures show 2023 is expected to be a record-breaking year for global carbon dioxide emissions, with a predicted 40.9 billion metric tons sent into the atmosphere.
Of that, 36.8 billion metric tons of CO2 is from the burning of fossil fuels, and the remainder from deforestation and land use changes, according to research from the Global Carbon Project.
“The growing emissions year on year are responsible for our climate change. And as long as they are not brought down to zero, then the warming is going to continue,” Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, told The Associated Press.
Research from Kick Big Polluters Out — a coalition of environmental groups attending COP28 — suggests more than 2,400 delegates at the summit are connected to fossil fuel industries.
“This is seven times larger than the Indigenous people’s delegation, and a four-times increase from last year’s 636 delegates who were lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry [at COP27],” said Eric Njuguna, a member of the Fridays for Future campaign group, which is part of the coalition.
Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed by 43% over the next six years if the world is to meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, beyond which they say climate change likely becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
However, current trajectories suggest emissions will actually rise by 9% over that same time span.
“And that is why at COP28, we need a strong commitment to phase out all fossil fuels — not just coal, not just unabated fossil fuels, but all fossil fuels — including oil, gas and coal,” Njuguna told VOA.
Others say phasing out all fossil fuels is simply unrealistic and insist that fossil fuels will have to be part of the energy mix, alongside innovations like carbon markets and carbon capture.
Patrick Pouyanne, chief executive officer of French giant TotalEnergies, is among those from the oil industry attending COP28.
“Oil and gas will remain for quite a long time,” he told delegates Tuesday. “And so, we need absolutely to produce oil and gas in a different way by slashing down emissions. And we can do it. We have the technology. It’s a question, again, of focusing on it,” he added.
Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, president of COP28, is also head of the United Arab Emirates state-run oil company ADNOC, which plans to increase production substantially by 2030.
Al-Jaber wants a phasing down of fossil fuels rather than a phasing out, insisting that this is the only way to rein in global warming while allowing for socioeconomic development. Facing a barrage of criticism on Tuesday, the COP president defended his stance.
“I am quite surprised with the constant and repeated attempts to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency and the attempts to undermine the message that we keep repeating when it comes to how much we respect the science,” he told reporters.
Al-Jaber’s statement has done little to placate his critics. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a climate activist, launched a scathing attack on the COP presidency.
“They are abusing the public’s trust by naming the CEO of one of the largest and least responsible oil companies in the world as head of the COP. … We cannot play games designed to protect the obscene profits of these oil and gas petrol states,” Gore told Reuters.
Observers say that with the spotlight so firmly fixed on the summit president, the COP28 hosts face a tough challenge to oversee negotiations toward a final declaration.