Climate Summit at the Petroleum Kingdom

Logo of the Climate Summit, COP28, at the United Arab Emirates, December 2023. W.

The Petroleum Kingdom is the United Arab Emirates.  The chief negotiator is the president of the UAE’s petroleum company, Sultan al-Jaber. This petroleum businessman probably oiled his influence onto the UN officials. And without a second thought, he assumed the responsibility of being president of the UN Summit as well. One wonders if Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, was so innocent about this brutally obvious corrupt connection with UAE and al-Jaber in particular. This oil executive revealed his contempt and ignorance of science when he said there is no reason to believe that fossil fuels must be phased out in order to prevent global temperature from reaching 1.50 Celsius above preindustrial levels. “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phaseout of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5[degrees Celsius,” he said. And this is the same man who is directing the Climate Summit, COP28, which is supposed to urge all states to bring the era of fossil fuels to an end?

Masquerade at the Climate Summit 

The remarks of al-Jaber infuriated Al Gore, former US Vice President, and environmentalist. He emailed the New York Times: “From the moment this absurd masquerade began, it was only a matter of time before his preposterous disguise no longer concealed the reality of the most brazen conflict of interest in the history of climate negotiations. Obviously, the world needs to phaseout fossil fuels as quickly as possible. [Al-Jaber] has been preparing one of the most aggressive expansions of fossil fuel production, timed to begin as soon as he bangs the final gavel to conclude COP28.”

We don’t know the reaction of Antonio Guterres, though he will have plenty of explaining to do. However, Guterres in UAE affirmed the importance of putting the brakes on the burning of fossil fuels, their elimination: “We cannot save a burning planet,” he said,  “with a firehose of fossil fuels. We must accelerate a just, equitable transition to renewables. The science is clear: The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phaseout – with a clear timeframe aligned with 1.5 degrees. Not reduce. Not abate. Phaseout. With a clear time frame aligned with 1.5 degrees [Celsius].”

Striking petroleum deals

Al-Jaber convinced the UN to have its 2023 climate meeting at Dubai, not because he took climate change seriously, but, according to the BBC, as an avenue to strike deals for more petroleum excavations and extractions the world over and, naturally, earn more petroleum money. BBC revealed this dark scheme, saying the UAE  “planned to use its role as the host of UN climate talks as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals.”

Al-Jaber’s “COP28 team” prepared the leaked documents, which described proposed “talking points.” For example, al-Jaber urged  China to join forces with UAE for facilitating liquified natural gas “opportunities” in Mozambique, Canada, and Australia. Another corrupt deal urged a government minister in Colombia to consider Adnoc, the petroleum state company of UAE, as a partner for the development of the fossil fuel resources of the country. Other “talking points” for fossil fuels and even renewable energy included 20 other countries. For example, UK, United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kenya.

Artificial Intelligence and climate change

With Al-Jaber in charge of the Dubai Climate Summit, proponents of Artificial Intelligence tried to sell their fast technology for fighting climate chaos. Yet the ominous potential of AI did not fade into nothing. AI experts from the industry and academia warned the world about the potential risks of AI. The Center for AI Safety published a brief but succinct statement capturing their concern. They said: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

However, climate experts at the Climate Summit at Dubai examined another AI risk. They figured that feeding AI computers with electricity would be so demanding that the greenhouse gas emissions would make the climate emergency worse. AI works with thousands of specialized computer chips, which “could consume immense amounts of electricity.” For example, by 2027, AI would consume  something like 85 to 134 terawatt hours every year. This amount of electricity would be somewhat equivalent to the electricity used annually by  Argentina, the Netherlands and Sweden. That is to say, powering AI services in a few years would demand “about 0.5 percent of the world’s current electricity use.” In addition, a Google-funded study on the benefits and risks of AI, is warning that very large quantities of water would be necessary for cooling AI “data centers.” Like small nuclear power stations, data centers emit tremendous amounts of heat, which has to be dissipated by water. The Google study cites a 2016 report from the US Department of Energy, which  estimated “data center water consumption at 1.7 billion liters/day, of which 0.3 billion liters/day is used on site for cooling, or 0.02% of total US water consumption of 1,218 billion liters/day.” E-wastes are also projected to increase with more uses of AI.

For philosophical and political reasons, AI should not exist. Yet warfare and corporate profits gave it birth and sustenance. Like an octopus, the owners of AI keep “improving” its uses to the point it becomes, like nuclear bombs, unmovable behind the thrones of billionaires. AI paraded in the Climate Summit, supposedly as a solution for mitigating the deadly effects of the anthropogenic climate disaster. This is telling of the power of powerful corporations, which felt they had also to issue a warning about their deadly gift to powerless humanity.

We need a bullet train to speed up the phase out of fossil fuels

Despite the AI distraction, the Climate Summit, COP28, at Dubai had a powerful voice in Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary. On December 6, 2023, he urged the delegates from 200 states to take climate chaos seriously—and act, NOW. “If we want to save lives now,” he said, “and keep [the] 1.5 [degrees Celsius] goal within reach, the highest ambition COP outcomes must stay front and center… we need COP to deliver a bullet train to speed up climate action. We currently have an old caboose chugging over rickety tracks. But the tools are all there on the table, the technologies and solutions exist.It’s time for governments and negotiators to pick them up and put them to work. UN Climate Change will be working with Parties every step of the way, as the honest broker and convenor. We’ll make sure all countries have a seat at the table and can use their full voice.”

Epilogue

Al Gore is right. Al-Jaber is a dangerous oil man. His morality is the morality of Exxon. The UN compromised its integrity by accepting the proposal of UAE to host the Climate Summit. Antonio Guterres, for whom I have tremendous respect, made a terrible mistake. He needs to explain and come clean. After all, he knows intimately the corruption governing fossil fuel executives and their dark influence on governments. Guterres must, once again, denounce these enemies of humanity and the Earth. We certainly need a bullet train to power climate action to phase out fossil fuels at the speed of bullet train.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.