Τhe Climate Summit in the United Arab Emirates did the Bidding of the Petroleum Billionaires

A poster of a planet with a coat on it Description automatically generated

Carbon dioxide, CO2, is a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It increased by 50 percent since 1750. NASA, JPL-Caltech., 2022.

Prologue

The final draft document of the December 2023 Climate Summit, COP28, thousands of pages long, included the magic words “fossil fuels” – just once. This daring, of including fossil fuels and their inevitable phase out in the testimony of COP28, said David Gelles, a New York Times reporter, “marks a potentially trajectory-altering moment in the fight against climate change.”

I am not sure I buy this exaggerated hope. I watched on the Internet the last two hours of the closing discussion at COP28 at the United Arab Emirates. Al Jaber, oil minister of UAE, presided over the chaotic closing ceremony. Delegates from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the United States, for example, praised al-Jaber for his leadership. A-Jaber also thanked his family, his “excellency,” the president of UAE, and his team for the achievement of saying softly what is a deafening cry by the natural world and millions of humans who have died and have been suffering from the ceaseless burning of fossil fuels for more than a century.

Phasing out or down fossil fuels or more drilling?

Listening to these nauseating “thanks,” I imagined the deals al-Jaber had worked out behind the scenes for more oil exploration and more drilling. Then the praises turned to the “take-home” of the global conclave to reach a consensus for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.”

Gelles says that al-Jaber “ultimately muscled language about ending fossil fuels into the final COP agreement.” He did. Yet the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which has al-Jaber as director, is investing some $ 150 billion in the next 5 years for more drilling. And, in a fundamental way, Jaber’s muscled language continues the drilling for another 27 years.

The revised advanced version of the COP28 final decision document states that about 200 countries are urged to triple renewable energy while they double the efficiency of all the energy they employ. Moreover, all nations need to speed up their moving away from fossil fuels – this decade. But these nations are given all the way to mid-century to finish phasing out petroleum, natural gas, and coal.

The handicaps of this new consensus are basically two. First, waiting for a complete phase out of the main causes of planetary overheating by 2050 is foolish and irresponsible. Scientists are warning that unless we phase out 43 percent of all fossil fuels by 2030, we will raise the planetary temperature to more than 1.50 Celsius above pre-industrial levels. So, saying go on and drill until 2050 guarantees explosive global temperatures, deadly heat waves on land and seas, droughts, massive fires, floods, and severe worldwide famine. Nature, helpless and perpetually abused, will experience another massive extinction of species.

Second, the Climate Summit agreement is toothless. No mechanism exists to enforce it. No wonder thousands of fossil fuel lobbyists traveled to UAE Climate Summit. They worked with al-Jaber and his team and created a very lengthy legal paper full of loopholes and propaganda, decorated by a green lipstick about transitioning to renewable energy.

Triumph of petroleum billionaires

Meanwhile, the world’s largest oil producer, the United States, is celebrating an oil boom. American oil companies are cracking a gush of oil, about 13.2 million barrels of petroleum per day. This means gasoline prices are dropping. More cars and trucks and private airplanes and yachts will indulge driving and flying and sailing much more. Burning more petroleum, however, nullifies the voluntary advice of the Climate Summit. The result? Ballooning of the already high emission of greenhouse gases, which capture solar energy and increase global temperature.

Small island-nations were unhappy with the outcomes of COP28. Anne Rasmussen, the chief negotiator of Samoa, was angry because the deal happened in the absence of 39 island-nations. The powerless island-nations were not in the room. “The course correction that is needed has not been secured,” she said. However another delegate from Samoa, Cedric Schuster, did not mince words. She said: “We will not sign our death certificate. We cannot sign on to text that does not have strong commitments on phasing out fossil fuels.”

Another woman with experience in state and UN bureaucracy, Mary Robinson, was also angry. She had caught al-Jaber saying that science was irrelevant on issues of fossil fuel use or phase out. She said: “It is not good enough to say you recognize and respect the science but then fail to take heed of its dire warnings in the collective action you commit to … It is not good enough to use weak language or to permit loopholes for the fossil fuel industry to continue to contribute to the very problem countries are meant to be committed to tackling here in Dubai … this current version of the COP28 text is grossly insufficient.”

The COP petroleum managers also ignored indigenous people. “We watched first-hand as the fossil fuel polluters and wealthy governments manipulated developing countries to undermine real action on climate change,” said Tom Goldtooth, the director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, “[while] our strong messages of fossil fuel phase-out fell on deaf ears and instead more false solutions will accelerate climate change and deforestation… The UN climate change conference has failed humanity and Mother Earth.”

Another powerful voice for the impoverished tropical countries is that of Nina Lakhani, a reporter for the Guardian. She attended the Climate Summit in the UAE and was discouraged and outraged by witnessing the blatant influence and power of the fossil fuel lobbyists and petroleum-rich countries. She said:

“The biggest polluting countries and industries in the world, including the U.S., the U.K., the EU, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, and the fossil fuel industry itself were extremely happy with the result [of the COP28]. The language [of the draft document]… says… that there will be a transition away from fossil fuels. There is no timeline. There is nothing more concrete than that… this is business as usual… There is no language that basically… acknowledges the historic responsibility of rich, developed countries like the U.S. and the U.K. and others in the current climate catastrophe. And it places no… extra responsibility on them to get rid of fossil fuels fast, or any timeline at all. And in addition to that… through pressure from the U.S. and the EU and others, there’s actually a huge get-out clause. There’s a paragraph that says that transition fuels… are OK. And by that, they’re talking about gas… the Biden administration has been expanding [the extraction of petroleum and gas] — the U.S. is the biggest oil and gas producer in the world this year, by a long way. It also has the plans to expand oil and gas at a much greater and faster scale than any other country in the world.”

True, I don’t like hypocrisy, either. I would have hoped that President Biden had the courage to, finally, put the lives and health of Americans and the planet above the profits of fossil fuel companies. But that’s an illusion. He is too much into supporting the wars in Ukraine and Israel. He would not be able to invite China, India, the European Union, and Russia for a real climate summit to, in fact, put into practice and policy the phase out of fossil fuels. Such a step, in theory, would guarantee his reelection. A Nobel Peace Prize would probably follow.

So, in real America, people should wake up and stop both misguided wars funded by us behind our backs. Then Americans must face the battle of their lives, saving themselves and our beloved planet Earth from the pernicious and thoughtless appetites of the billionaire class.

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.