Oil above troubled waters

The Conference of Parties (COP28), part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2023 held in Dubai, aimed, like its predecessors, to establish policies to mitigate global temperature rises and adapt to climate change impacts. However, this year, it encountered significant challenges related to two critical issues: oil and finance.

Scientific reports presented at the conference painted an alarming picture, indicating a failure to meet the desired goal of limiting the global mean temperature rise to 1.5°Celsius, as agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The inability of nations to fulfill their commitments made this goal increasingly unattainable. Consequently, discussions shifted to advocate for a fossil fuel phase-out, a proposition met with resistance from members of the Organization of Oil-Exporting Countries (OPEC) and BRICS nations.

While OPEC spearheaded opposition to the phase-out, other major oil producers, such as the USSR within OPEC+, resisted imposing caps on greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions, causing global warming, stem from historical fuel consumption during industrialization by developed nations. Emerging economies like India and China objected to emission caps, citing their development stage and rallied support from other aspirants to development.

Advocates for ending global warming proposed a complete fossil fuel phase-out, leading to concerns about the repercussions. Such a move would not only disrupt the lifestyles of developed nations but also hinder the development aspirations of emerging economies. Notably, the Chairman of COP 28, Sultan Al-Jaber, serving as the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Limited, became the first representative of Big Oil to head the Conference.

OPEC countries foresaw significant economic strain from a fossil fuel phase-out, and discussions centered on targeting the usage rather than the extraction and sale of fossil fuels. However, it’s recognized that reduced usage would diminish demand.

The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like hydro, solar, and wind is necessary for a phase-out. While a shift to electric-powered transportation is in progress, it still relies on increased energy generation, potentially amplifying fossil fuel consumption. Natural gas has been proposed as an interim solution, yet it still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, making it part of the phase-out dilemma.

The conference Chairman suggested that the science doesn’t support a phase-out, echoing initial arguments made by Big Oil about global warming’s causes. Resistance to a phase-out primarily arises from the substantial costs involved in replacing power plants and vehicles, posing challenges for governments and individuals alike.

Efforts to establish a Loss and Damage Fund to assist regions affected by global warming have received limited funding, leading to concerns about unfair burdens placed on less developed nations. Rising sea levels threaten several vulnerable nations, emphasizing the disparity in climate change impacts between affluent and impoverished regions.

However, addressing global warming demands international cooperation and transcending nationalistic perspectives. Issues like smog, irrespective of national boundaries, require collective action. National interests clash with the necessity for global collaboration to tackle the imminent threat posed by climate change.

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