How fossil fuel influence choked climate talks
At COP27, "the influence of the fossil fuel industry was found across the board."
The world’s top climate scientists agree that fossil fuels are causing dangerous climate change. They say that, in order to keep warming to 1.5° Celsius—the point at which most places can still be saved—most of the world’s existing fossil fuel resources need to remain in the ground.
But the world as a whole seems to have missed the memo. On Sunday, the two-week COP27 climate summit in Egypt ended with a global agreement to keep warming to 1.5° Celsius—but without a global commitment to phase out, or even phase down, the use of fossil fuels.
The absence of such a commitment makes the COP27 deal nonsensical. Scientists have not found any path to achieve a 1.5°C target without significantly reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.
But climate pledges shaped by fossil fuel interests never make sense. And that’s exactly what the COP27 deal is.
How fossil fuel influence choked global climate talks
The exclusion of fossil fuels from the final deal at COP27 did not happen because it was the best decision for the climate. It happened because of influence by fossil fuel interests that would stand to lose significant money and power if science-based climate policies were adopted.
“The influence of the fossil fuel industry was found across the board,” Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, said in a statement to CNN.
Approximately 80 countries had been in support of a final deal that included an agreement to “phase down” fossil fuels, including the U.S., Canada, and Australia. But the the Egyptian summit hosts reportedly “stonewalled” their push after staunch opposition from oil-rich countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia, who said that any mention of fossil fuels in the deal was a “red line.”
To be sure, Egypt—who as host was in charge of releasing the deal’s text—was also likely opposed to the language. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, “selling fossil fuels has been among [Egypt’s] top priorities:”
While Egypt is desperate for cash as fallout from the Ukraine war batters its debt-ridden economy, Europe is desperate for natural gas after spurning Russian energy because of the war.
Enter Egypt and its two gas liquefaction export plants — just across the Mediterranean from Europe.
Since Egypt began pumping from the enormous Mediterranean natural gas field known as Zohr in 2017, the country has sought to position itself as a major energy hub. By January, it hopes to sell $1 billion of natural gas a month, some its own, some imported and liquefied for re-export.
Delegates from oil-rich countries weren’t the only fossil fuel interests exerting interest over the summit. There were 636 fossil fuel lobbyists at the COP27, a 25 percent increase from last year’s climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, according to a report from Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory, and Global Witness.
Fossil fuel lobbyists outnumbered any individual country’s delegation at the summit—except the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s biggest oil exporters. They had over a thousand.
The only mention of fossil fuels was to include one as a solution
In addition to leaving out mention of fossil fuels, the final text of the global climate agreement reached Sunday swapped mentions of renewable energy for language referring to “low-emission and renewable energy.”
This was widely seen as a loophole to allow countries to include natural gas, a fossil fuel, in their climate plans.
The Guardian reported earlier this month that the natural gas industry was trying to use the summit as an opportunity to rebrand gas as a “transition fuel.” With the inclusion of “low-emission” language, they appeared to succeed.
But their success made the final agreement even more scientifically nonsensical. The International Energy Agency has said that no new gas production projects are compatible with a 1.5°C target.
Fossil fuel influence leads to anti-scientific solutions and public confusion
I am often asked whether I think it’s appropriate that fossil fuel industry representatives are included in global climate talks.
Many people argue they must be included, as the fossil fuel industry is the one that will be most affected by a clean energy transition. If they are the main problem, many say, then they must be part of the solution.
In theory, I agree with that sentiment. But the fossil fuel industry and its allied countries have not shown themselves to be good faith participants in these talks. Year after year, their primary goal has been muddying the discussion around fossil fuels’ role as the primary driver of climate change. This not only leads to watered down agreements that do not align with the science; it leads to public confusion about who is to blame for this crisis.
We are fast-approaching the deadline for limiting warming to safe levels. Yet we are still living in a political and media environment where the vast majority of people don’t mention fossil fuels when they talk about climate change.
That’s not a coincidence; it’s by design. The fossil fuel industry is fighting tooth and nail to deny the truth of their responsibility. As long as they’re allowed at global climate talks, that’s what they’ll continue to do.
More from COP27:
Queer Climate Activists Speak Out After COP27 in Egypt. Atmos, 11/21/22
‘Shameful’ UN silencing Indigenous voices, say banned Cop27 activists. The Guardian, 11/18/22.
3 things you may have missed at the UN climate talks. Conservation.org, 11/21/22
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