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Alan Mammoser

Alan Mammoser

Alan Mammoser writes about energy, environment, cities, infrastructure and planning. He writes the weblog, www.warmearth.us

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Will the COP28 Consensus Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground?

  • COP28's groundbreaking agreement commits to tripling global renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030, potentially transforming power sectors globally.
  • The push for hydrogen as a key element in the renewable energy transition also gained momentum, with calls for a clear goal akin to the focus on renewables.
  • Controversial aspects include the fossil fuel transition emphasis on demand, rather than production, and the endorsement of carbon capture and storage, sparking debate among activists and experts.
Fossil Fuels

The consensus agreement reached in Dubai last week evoked a mixture of triumph and angst. In the world’s warmest year on record, the world’s nations for the first time agreed to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels. But the path to transition looks to be a long one. 

COP28 saw the paradox of a big oil company CEO shepherding through a final agreement that calls for a ‘transition away from fossil fuels’ – the first ever such statement in a COP communique. 

It also saw, in the same final session, a spokesperson for small island nations exclaiming that ‘the process has failed us,’ leading to an agreement with a ‘litany of loopholes.’ 

It was in the end a consensus document with significant concessions to fossil fuel producers, but also significant commitments towards carbon-free energy. And while its global and voluntary nature might signify nothing more than a token document, it does contain levers that will help to shape the future of energy. 

Double down, triple up 

The final agreement’s commitment to triple renewable energy worldwide in just seven years by 2030, and double energy efficiency improvements, is its strongest element. It actually contains the capacity to totally transform power sectors in many countries.  

“I think it’s very significant, it’s an acceleration,” says Frank Wouters, Senior Vice President, Reliance Industries Ltd. and Chairman, MENA Hydrogen Alliance. “We need to significantly ramp up and this is the start of it.”  

Wouters is Co-President of the Long Duration Energy Storage Council, a founding member of the Global Renewables Alliance (GRA), which he calls an ‘anchor organization’ for renewables.

The GRA campaigned for the ‘double down – triple up’ commitment during the fall, calling for a tripling of total global renewable power capacity by 2030 to at least 11,000 GW and doubling energy efficiency improvement rates.

At a ‘pre-COP’ event in November, the GRA, the COP28 Presidency, and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) launched a report, ‘Tripling renewable power and doubling energy efficiency by 2030: Crucial steps towards 1.5°C’. Then, early in the COP summit, the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge was signed by over 130 countries, setting the direction for the final agreement. 

The objectives are the first item in the Dubai document, stated in clear language that indicates strong consensus.  

“It wasn’t an easy race,” says Wouters. “China had a tough time with efficiency, it’s hard to measure.”  

“It’s an acceleration, but massive amounts of money will need to be mobilized for it.” 

Hydrogen next?  

“A large part (of the new renewable power) will go toward hydrogen,” says Wouters. He thinks the next COP summit should set a clear goal for hydrogen, as it has now for renewables. 

“We will need something like this for hydrogen, something way more systemic,” he says. “And its own special recognition.“

His thinking reflects industry groups’ belief that the large-scale expansion of renewable energy will lay the necessary foundation for the scale-up of green hydrogen and long-duration energy storage beyond 2030. 

Breaking away

The most celebrated part of the Dubai agreement is the ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems’ statement. It calls for ‘accelerating this in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.’ 

It is the first actual mention of fossil fuels in the 30-year history of UN climate talks; previous documents had always focused on emissions. It’s clearly the result of a push by COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of ADNOC, who was under pressure to show progress.  

Yet the ‘transitioning’ phrase is far from putting caps on fossil fuels production. 

Rather, it puts the focus on demand, not production, opening a potentially huge loophole for fossil fuel-producing countries and companies, who will claim in future years they’re merely meeting demand for their products. 

“That’s what the Saudis were aiming for,” says Robin Mills, CEO at Qamar Energy, a consultancy in Dubai. “It’s a low bar.”

“Still, the language on fossils is symbolically important,” he says. And it will have impact, Mills thinks, as oil and gas importers in Europe will view their suppliers as parties to an international agreement that they take seriously. 

Al Jaber’s influence could also be seen in the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter, a pledge by 50 oil and gas producers to cut emissions from their own operations, announced in the first days of the summit. ExxonMobil and Aramco – the world’s largest private and state-sector oil companies – signed on. 

The companies pledged to stem upstream methane releases and stop routine flaring of natural gas by 2030. This led to language in the final agreement, to accelerate and substantially reduce ‘non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions by 2030.’

The pledge is voluntary and will certainly depend on strong regulatory regimes to ensure it happens, but signatories will have to produce strategies by 2025. 

Capturing controversy

Activists observing the summit, who wanted to see progress on phasing out coal, were unhappy with the language in the final document, which calls for ‘accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power’. 

But what really riled them up was the clear endorsement of carbon capture and storage, which receives apparently equal status with renewables in the final agreement, although with the important qualifier that such technology should be focused on ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors. 

Carbon capture and storage technologies were decried before and during the course of the summit by environmental advocates, who called CCS a distraction and cover-up for the expansion of fossil fuels production. 

“I find a lot of the debate quite frustrating,” says Robin Mills. “Climate change is about emissions, not fossil fuels.” 

“So if you can get the Saudis on board (to the COP agreement) with the carbon capture, then it’s a good thing.” 

“Tell me what is your solution for carbon-free steel, cement, fertilizers,” he continues, asking the question rhetorically of CCS opponents. 

Mills acknowledges that opponents are right when they point to the failures of large projects, but he points to some successful ones. And he thinks the problems can be fixed with the right regulatory regime. 

“It’s about 10 percent of the solution to climate change, but it’s an important 10 percent,” he says. 

Next up 

Everyone, including Mr. Al Jaber, said the Dubai agreement is only as good as the parties’ (countries) willingness to put it into effect. 

But they will be held to some account. The agreement calls for countries to present their next nationally determined contributions (NDCs) at a special event to be held under the auspices of the UN Secretary General. It encourages them to communicate their NDCs in 2025 looking toward an end date of 2035. 

So the conversation will continue, next November at COP29 in Baku, where the focus is expected to be on how to finance all of the commitments made in Dubai. 

By Alan P. Mammoser for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Mike Lewicki on December 20 2023 said:
    maybe your site should move away from oil and gas.

    there will never be a transition more than 20% .

    nothing is an inexpensive as coal, oil and ng.
  • Mamdouh Salameh on December 20 2023 said:
    All the previous COP conferences made grand statements about achieving climate change goals but fell short of their goals. COP 28 won’t be an exception.

    That is why the call to transition away from fossil fuels is an empt one. Neither those who called for the transitioning nor those who are supposed to do the transitioning can do anything against fossil fuels.

    It is the global economy and its needs who can effect the transitioning of fossil fuels and they are signalling to the world that they don’t think that energy transition and net-zero emissions are achievable or capable of satisfying the needs of both rising world population and the needs of a growing economy.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

Leave a comment

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