Cop28 head backs fossil phase-out with carbon capture caveat

Sultan Al-Jaber, the UAE’s climate envoy, advocated for the “phase out of fossil fuel emissions” rather than the use of fossil fuels.

A discussion between nations about the significance of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in the battle against climate change has been sparked by the leader of the Cop28 climate negotiations’ proposal for “phasing out fossil fuel emissions.”

In a speech outlining his agenda for the talks in Dubai in December, United Arab Emirates (UAE) climate envoy Sultan Al-Jaber said, “In a pragmatic, just, and well-managed energy transition, we must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions while phasing in and scaling up viable, affordable zero-carbon alternatives.”

The use of the word “emissions” is likely to be perceived as a loophole for continuing to use such fuels provided their emissions are kept out of the atmosphere through CCS, as a large coalition of governments have been pushing for an agreement to “phase out fossil fuels” at Cop28.

Cops and fossil fuels

Despite being the primary cause of climate change, the burning of fossil fuels was for many years left out of the joint statements that governments made at international climate negotiations.

However, as India and China protested to the term “phase out,” governments decided to “phase down” the most polluting fossil fuel coal at Cop26 in the UK in 2021.

A large coalition of governments lobbied for a pledge to “phase out” fossil fuels at Cop27 in Egypt the following year.

However, that phrase was rejected by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia, and the host nation Egypt decided not to include it.

The governments of nations like Germany, Chile, and Tuvalu declared they were disappointed despite accepting that accord.

UAE strikes balance

According to Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, the environment minister for the UAE, the oil and gas industry should decarbonize and “then phase out oil and gas in a just way” in February at the Munich Security Conference. She said, though, that “the oil and gas sector needs to be with us.”

Al Jaber today urged “smart government regulation to…make carbon capture commercially viable” in addition to asking for the targeting of “fossil fuel emissions.”

Al Jaber, the head of the government-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, advocated for more worldwide investment in oil and gas in November 2021.

The future is bright, but it has not yet arrived. We must move forward pragmatically, he said at an oil conference in Abu Dhabi.

International divisions

Some nations are likely to become incensed if “fossil fuel emissions” are the main focus instead of fossil fuels. The “strongest voices” in favor of CCS “are currently coming from fossil exporting countries,” a European official claimed to Climate Home last week.

According to the official, CCS “will play a key role” in several difficult-to-cleanse industries. However, they noted that renewable energy and energy efficiency “are the most affordable and easily accessible mitigation technologies” and that “for now, it’s an expensive option, a luxury technology.”

The world’s largest producer of oil and gas, the US, has a different perspective. John Kerry, the US’s climate envoy, made a mistake while speaking about the harm that fossil fuels create in a recent interview with Foreign Policy magazine.

“Unabated fossil fuels,” he declared. I want to be clear about this. Unabated is an important part of this. Go for it if you can grab 100% of the market, use it for good, construct the infrastructure, and the costs are competitive.

Russia and Saudi Arabia, two other significant oil and gas producers, have both praised CCS. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) was described as “of utmost importance to the green agenda” by the deputy prime minister of Russia, Alexey Overchuk, during a recent World Bank meeting. A Saudi minister claimed it had “great potential to serve the climate mitigation agenda.”

The debate

CCS is still pricy and hasn’t been tested extensively.

The cost of using CCUS to block a tonne of carbon dioxide varies between $50 and $200, according to IPCC scientists. Typically, switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is less expensive.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), there are now just 35 commercial facilities using CCUS, with a combined yearly capture capacity of 45 Mt CO2. Most work in the gas processing business and are located in North America.

It has been referred to be a “distraction” by many climate activists who believe it gives fossil fuel companies permission to continue extracting more coal, oil, and gas that harms the planet.

However, Fatih Birol, the chairman of the IEA, disagrees, describing it as “critical for ensuring our transitions to clean energy are secure and sustainable.”

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