Mon, Jun 17 2024 17 June, 2024

COP28 energy pledge stops short of tackling burning of fossil fuels

At COP28 in Dubai, 50 oil and gas companies pledged to stop contributing to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Delegates walk through Expo 2020 Dubai, where the COP28 climate summit is being held (Photo credit: Sophie Davies/Gas Outlook)

(Dubai, United Arab Emirates) — A new oil and gas decarbonisation charter that launched at COP28 in Dubai on Saturday represents some progress but is mostly window-dressing, as it fails to tackle the main cause of planet-destroying emissions — the burning of fossil fuels.

A total of 50 oil and gas companies pledged to stop contributing to greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but the commitment — which is only voluntary — just covers emissions from production, not the actual burning of fossil fuels. Emissions from production are just a tiny fraction of overall emissions.

The pledge, known as the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter (OGDC), though comprising more members, is also arguably no more ambitious than previous promises made by the fossil fuels industry under the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a CEO-led initiative comprised of 12 of the world’s biggest energy companies — promises that have not yet been fulfilled.

The new energy pledge also gives companies the opportunity to increase their oil and gas production in the short-term, as long as it is reduced by 2050 – not an ideal scenario as we near the end of the hottest year on record globally. Floods, hurricanes and heatwaves now imperil millions of lives around the world with alarming regularity and ferocity.

Nevertheless, that the 50 countries (which represent over 40 percent of global oil production, according to the UAE) also pledged to almost entirely stop releasing methane gas during oil and gas production by 2030 does mark clear progress. Methane accounts for approximately one third of the global rise in temperatures, studies have shown.

The lifespan of methane is relatively short — only around a dozen years — but in this short time, methane absorbs vastly more heat than greenhouse gases. Methane leaks from all stages of the supply chain are pervasive, and many are going undetected. So-called “methane bombs” threaten to gush massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere from oil and gas facilities.

Notable progress was also signalled by the fact the pledge was signed by Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the world’s biggest company, and 28 other state-owned oil companies including the UAE’s Adnoc and Brazil’s Petrobras. That represents the largest ever number of national oil companies to sign up to a decarbonisation pledge, a clear win and a sign the tide is turning perhaps.

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, who is also CEO of Adnoc, called the decarbonisation charter a “great first step” and he was not wrong – that is precisely what it was, an initial step. Now much more decisive, broader and binding agreements are needed.

Al-Jaber himself also made it clear that decarbonisation efforts need to be more ambitious, telling delegates on Saturday: “Whilst many national oil companies have adopted net zero 2050 targets for the first time, I know that they and others, can and need to do more,” he said. “We need the entire industry to keep 1.5C within reach and set even stronger ambitions for decarbonisation.”

When the sun sets on COP28 on Dec. 12th, the world will be watching to see if the nearly 200 countries present have managed to agree to a phase-out of fossil fuels. If that doesn’t take place, some are likely to see the decarbonisation charter and the loss and damage finance announcement on the opening day of the climate summit as a distraction from real progress towards Paris Agreement goals to reach net zero emissions.

On Saturday, around 100 countries at the U.N. climate talks also promised to treble global renewable energy usage by 2030, however as with the oil and gas decarbonisation pledge, the commitments are not legally-binding and there will not be any penalties if targets are missed.

Nothing more than another “first step” — but there is still much to unfold at this COP.