UN Secretary-General António Guterres attacked attempts by the oil and gas industry to justify the expansion of fossil fuels with carbon capture technologies as “proposals to become more efficient destroyers of the planet”, in a speech that appeared to be a veiled criticism of the UAE COP28 hosts. .
Industry’s stated plans to deal largely with global warming emissions by capturing them, rather than phasing out production, undermine the climate agenda, Guterres said.
UAE COP28 president-designate Sultan al-Jaber, who is also the head of state-owned oil company Adnoc, has consistently echoed industry’s view that the focus needs to be on emissions control.
“Let’s face the facts. Fossil fuel emissions are not the only problem. They are fossil fuels – period,” Guterres said. “We are heading for disaster, eyes wide open, with too many people willing to bet everything on wishful thinking, unproven technologies and solutions.”
Guterres noted that for every dollar the industry spent on oil and gas extraction and exploration, only 4c went to clean energy and carbon capture combined. “Exchanging the future for thirty pieces of silver is immoral,” he said.
He added on Thursday that his comments were “not aimed at any individual” but were an appeal to “those who have the power to change” and urged fossil fuel companies to shift their entire business to renewable energy.
The remarks come five months before UAE Petrostate is due to host COP28 in Dubai under Jaber’s leadership. More than 130 US lawmakers and members of the European Parliament wrote to UN officials and others last month ask the UAE to withdraw Jaber from the rolesaying his position at the head of the state-owned oil company risks “undermining negotiations”.
The halfway point at COP28 was marked on Thursday in Bonn, Germany, where discussions on the agenda were concluded. The countries were deadlocked until the penultimate day when they finally managed to agree on what issues could be brought forward for consideration at COP28.
Although the EU proposed an agenda item on work to reduce emissions, it was ultimately not included after rejection by a group of oil and gas-producing nations, including Saudi Arabia. Instead, discussions on the issue in Bonn will be recorded in a “note” that informs the talks at COP28.
At one point, Pakistan’s co-chair of the Bonn talks, Nabeel Munir, warned negotiators that all their work would be wasted if the agenda was not officially adopted, accusing them of behaving like a “primary school class”. An ambassador whose land was ravaged by floods, he insisted “Please wake up, what is happening around you is unbelievable.
One notable outcome of Bonn was the UN’s decision to require all participants in future climate COPs to disclose their affiliation. This follows years of pressure from activists demanding more transparency in UN climate talks due to concerns about lobbying by the fossil fuel industry.
Progress in Bonn is seen as a key milestone in the negotiations ahead of COP28. Climate experts had hoped the UAE presidency would outline its vision for the Dubai summit and expressed disappointment on Thursday.
While Jaber went further than before at the Bonn meeting to say the phase-out of fossil fuels was inevitable, it did not include a timeline or a plan to end new oil and gas production.
A key question remains whether the COP28 presidency would allow countries to have an “open and transparent discussion” about including a commitment to phase out fossil fuels in the final text of the COP decision, said Alden Meyer of the E3G think tank.