Crane Valley Hotshots set a back fire while the York Fire burns in the Mojave National Preserve on July 30, 2023. The York Fire has burned over 70,000 acres, including Joshua trees and yucca in the Mojave National Preserve, and has crossed the state line from California into Nevada. (Photo : AFP)
“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.” So goes a soundbite from UN Secretary General António Guterres, speaking in the wake of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) meeting that announced July the world’s hottest month on record. Scientists from the WMO and other organisations are loudly sounding the alarm that the world is on the verge of “irreversible” climate change short of urgent and decisive action.
A few months before the global climate conference to be hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in November, a campaign to cut the use of fossil fuels (mainly oil and gas) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has intensified. The Conference of Parties (COP) is the annual global climate change gathering of world nations to discuss ways to fight global warming. The UAE assigned Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, the CEO of the big national energy company ADNOC, the task of leading COP28 this year. The decision was scrutinised heavily in the Western media.
Some scientists even assume that the point of a maximum increase in the earth’s temperature by 1.5 degree Celsius has already been reached. That target was agreed on in a landmark accord during COP21, hosted by France in 2015 and known as the “Paris Agreement” and signed by 196 countries. Though this temperature increase threshold might not have been reached, if the average of the year is taken into account, scientists warn that it is bound to. Further increases of 2.4 C-2.6 C by the end of this century can be expected even if climate commitments by other countries in the Paris Agreement are fully met.
Extreme heat in July, which lead to fires in places such as Greece, emboldened those calling for the end of fossil fuel use and a rise in the speed and magnitude of energy transformation to renewable sources. COP28 President Al-Jaber acknowledges this need and told the UK daily The Guardian in July that phasing down fossil fuels was “inevitable and essential”.
The UAE and other major energy producers and exporters dispute the notion of stopping fossil fuels instantly, as this is practically impossible without bringing the world economy to a halt. Though some call for this abrupt stop, others understand the need to move away from carbon-emitting energy sources in a gradual and well planned manner. Energy transformation requires cooperation between producers and consumers and provisions for poor countries that are the lowest contributors to global pollution but the most impacted by its dangers.
Despite the increasing pressure on COP28 and the key nations involved, some see a positive side. The shifting of the blame campaign away from personal matters like targeting the head of ADNOC and a more concerted effort to focus on real issues is seen by some as a positive sign. That was emphasised by Saker Nusseibeh, the CEO of Federated Hermes, in a blog this week on the ESG Clarity website. “However, it is pleasing that we are now getting to the business end of this particular COP. Disquiet and debate has been a feature of having the summit in oil-rich UAE, with a president who is also CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company,” he wrote.
In fact, the UAE announced earlier in July a promise to invest 54 billion dollars into renewables in the next seven years in support of efforts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Financing an energy transition and developing new technologies for carbon capture and storage are set to be high on the COP28 agenda. Al-Jaber promised in a series of interviews that COP28 “can be the turning point we need on climate action over this critical decade”.
Yet, the world’s richest nations that contribute almost 80 per cent of greenhouse gases causing global warming are not in agreement on scaling the efforts on energy transformation or financing adaptation. Environment and climate ministers from the G20 countries met in Goa, India, in mid-July and were “unable to reach a consensus on issues such as tripling renewable energy capacities by 2030 and phasing down fossil fuel use”, according to reports by the Hindustan Times and Reuters.
Sources who attended the Goa meeting told the Hindustan Times that the US resisted targets for the tripling of renewable energy, while Saudi Arabia’s delegation opposed the wording on the phasing down of fossil fuels. Actually, the UN campaign following the scientists’ warning of dire consequences of the heat witnessed in July is targeting those rich nations. The call for urgent action is meant to persuade those countries with the largest economies to take the lead in fighting climate change.
That will be a major challenge for the UAE team in COP28, if concrete steps are to be agreed upon and more importantly fulfilled by the countries involved.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 3 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly