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“Moment of truth” for oil and gas industry – IEA’s Faith Birol

The head of the International Energy Agency Faith Birol said that the oil and gas industry needs to slash emissions from its operations and show that it is serious at the COP28 summit.

Flag of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 (Photo credit: Adobe Stock/Rafael Henrique)

The oil and gas industry needs to slash emissions from its operations, and the upcoming COP28 international climate negotiations in Dubai later this year are a “moment of truth” for the industry, says Faith Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“At a time when the impacts of climate change are increasingly being felt worldwide, oil and gas producers need to secure a new social license to operate,” IEA executive director Faith Birol wrote in a commentary published on May 13.

According to IEA estimates, oil and gas industry commitments to reduce emissions represent less than half of total production worldwide. Moreover, many of the pledges are “vague or aren’t backed up by clear strategies for achieving them, especially for the crucial period between now and 2030,” Birol said.

The industry itself directly accounts for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. Extracting, processing, and delivering fossil fuels makes up 15 percent of global energy-related emissions, which represents more emissions than those produced by the United States, according to the IEA.

The agency says two-thirds of that total can be eliminated by 2030 at a price tag of roughly $600 billion, equivalent to less revenue than what the industry earned last year during the global energy crunch. Put another way, it would cost the equivalent of $2 per barrel of oil for producers.

“The industry can and should reinvest some of those profits to help the world reach net zero emissions and keep the goal of limiting global temperatures to 1.5 °C within sight,” Birol said.

The IEA said emissions should be targeted in three key areas: slashing methane emissions by ending routine flaring at oil and gas facilities, electrifying upstream operations, and scaling up green hydrogen and carbon capture.

Birol said that cleaning up industry operations should not come in lieu of the enormous task of demand reduction, but because “oil and gas aren’t going to disappear from our economies overnight…emissions from oil and gas operations need to be reduced rapidly at the same time as demand for the fuels is being driven down by policies to accelerate the transition,” he added.

The presidency of this year’s COP28 climate talks is held by the UAE’s Sultan al-Jaber, a controversial choice because in addition to leading the Ministry of Industry, Al Jaber also runs the state-owned oil company Adnoc. He has received widespread criticism from climate advocates for conflicts of interest.

He has repeatedly insisted that the UAE will play a constructive role in global climate action. But he has also talked about a future for fossil fuels and the need to “reduce emissions” rather than seeing a decline in the use of oil and gas. He has heavily emphasized carbon capture and sequestration, a technology that has yet to be proven to work at scale, and one that critics say will merely prolong the production and consumption of fossil fuels.

The head of the IEA said the industry’s credibility will be on the line in Dubai. “The oil and gas industry has the technologies, the money and the know-how to cut its emissions by 60% by 2030. And it has the responsibility to do so,” Birol said. “This is a moment of truth: if the oil and gas industry wants to be taken seriously in climate discussions, it has to clean up its act.”

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