As the 28th Conference of Parties (COP) on the climate crisis approaches, concerns are mounting about the influence of greenwashing and watering down of commitments by the fossil fuel industry. Here are some buzzwords from the fossil fuel lobbying playbook to look out for at the upcoming COP28.
On the 30th of November 2023, the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). As our window of time to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5C rapidly closes, the question of how quickly we can curtail the global reliance on fossil fuels is set (yet again) to become a key topic of the COP negotiations.
Over and over, we have seen COP climate talks infiltrated by industry interests which seek to prolong our use of fossil fuels for as long as possible.
Ronja Scherfig reflects on some of the issues you should watch for when it comes to the negotiations at COP28.
Four critical words to look for in regards to the use of fossil fuels in the negotiations and the final agreement are: phasedown vs. phaseout and abated vs. unabated.
A phase-down or Phase-out:
The last COP27 held in Egypt wrapped with an agreement to “a phasedown of unabated coal power” after a lengthy debate over whether or not this should include all fossil fuels. This issue is expected to resurface at this year’s COP meeting and the fossil fuel industry is already firing up its lobbying forces to weigh in. Will the resulting agreement of the COP28 be shaped by voices for climate justice, or fossil fuel interests?
The choice of phasedown vs. phaseout might appear to be a simple matter of taste of words, but will set the long-term strategy of reliance on fossil fuels in the future – either to simply reduce in scale or to phase out completely. The COP28 president in Dubai, Sultan Al Jaber, who also happens to be head of the UAE’s national oil company Adnoc, has on several occasions expressed favouring phase-down rather than phase-out. How this might affect the COP negotiations will be made clear in a matter of weeks.
Behind the door of abated fossil fuels:
The next words to look out for is abated vs. unabated fossil fuels. Unabated fossil fuels refer to the production or use without interventions which limits the emissions of greenhouse gases (i.e., by capturing the emitted CO2 and storing it) is also known as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Abated fossil fuels, on the contrary, refers to the use of some form of CCS. This technology has become a hot topic across the political scene around the world and a dangling carrot for the fossil fuel industry. Because the use of CCS technology opens up a loophole for the fossil fuel industry to keep drilling, digging and burning fossil fuels and for the world to keep relying on it.
A heavy dependence on CCS technology opens up a can of issues, ranging from technological feasibility, environmental uncertainties and (un)intended extension of fossil fuel use. Firstly, the technology has yet to be developed and proven to work at a bigger scale, leaving potentially many years until it might be implemented at scale. The energy and resources needed to develop, implement and run the technology are extensive, at a time of where urgent scale down is needed. The environmental impacts when storing CO2 in the ground on a big scale are uncertain. CCS is also expensive in comparison to ramping up renewable energy sources, making this strategy nothing more than a distraction. And lastly, the effect of relying on CCS will be an extended use and reliance on fossil fuels in a time where other energy sources (such as renewable energy and storage) must be prioritised.
Nowhere has the technology lived up to its promise, and allowing abated fossil fuels to keep burning in the final agreement of COP28 will only benefit the fossil fuel industry and polluters.
Seeing as the COP28 is held in an oil-state, the president of the COP28 being the head of the national oil-company in UAE and the historical false solutions which have penetrated the COP meetings, this year’s outcome might not be very different. At a time when real emission cuts are needed, we need to be aware and oppose the blurry words relying on false solutions such as (e.g., CCS), which only shifts the attention away from real emission cuts and lets the polluters continue polluting.
Follow the negotiations
Friends of the Earth International will have campaigners at the COP.
Position paper: Don’t fall for the hydrogen hype! (Nov. 2023)
Toolkit for fighting climate false solutions (Nov. 2023) which includes:
- Bank of evidence on the negative impacts of ‘nature-based solutions’
- List of resources
- Opposing carbon markets guide
Report: Renewable energy and land use- barriers to just transition in the Global South (Feb. 2023)