• Tensions persist as COP28 president outlines conference agenda, while growing number of climate finance mechanisms flagged as “unmanageable”

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

The Financial Times has carried an interesting piece on the continued tensions regarding how the use of fossil fuels will be treated at the COP28 summit in November, as well as a UN Board of Auditor’s view on the soundness of climate financing initiatives.

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber (also CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) has recently published a six-page letter outlining the agenda for the talks, with a focus on four “paradigm shifts”: 1) fast-tracking the energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030; 2) transforming climate finance by delivering on old promises and setting the framework for a new deal on finance; 3) putting nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the heart of climate action; and 4) mobilising for the most inclusive COP ever.

The conference will feature the first global stocktake (GST) of progress since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, and in Sultan al-Jaber’s words, the world “already knows the GST will show we are off track”, such that the “credibility of our inclusive multilateral process” depends on working together to institute the four paradigm shifts. Part of fast-tracking the energy transition will be work that “keeps the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C within reach and accelerates the inevitable and responsible phase-down of all fossil fuels, accelerates the phase-down of all unabated coal, and leads to an energy system free of unabated fossil fuels in the middle of this century.”

The FT criticises this statement by saying that it is “deeply buried and overshadowed by a more visible debate around issues such as green innovation.” It also quotes a mock reply letter written by Peter McKillop, founder of Climate and Capital Media, who points out that Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and its subsidiaries have been busily expanding their fossil fuel business activities this year. Mr McKillop also asks “Shouldn’t you [Sultan al-Jaber], as COP president and steward of the UN’s climate negotiation efforts, insist that 90% of that oil remain in the ground in order to meet the net zero scenarios set out by the International Energy Agency!?”

Such criticism perhaps glosses over the fact that more than 80% of the world’s primary energy comes from fossil fuels, and as such fossil fuel representatives simply must be included in climate negotiations. But it is also useful in pushing the conference, under al-Jaber’s presidency, towards higher ambitions; it is notable that in March of this year, the Financial Times was reporting that Sultan al-Jaber “has been consistent in stressing the need for a reduction of emissions rather than a reduction in fossil fuel production”, the newer language about phase-down of all fossil fuels is probably a reflection of the pressure put on the president.

The letter goes further to state that one of the agenda items is “country and industry pledges to decarbonize the oil and gas industry’s own emissions while investing in clean energy solutions, by committing to more than halving scope 1 and 2 emissions and eliminating methane emissions by 2030, to reach net zero by 2050 or earlier (with monitoring, measuring, and validating progress transparently, every step of the way), while significantly increasing the deployment of capital to drive clean energy solutions.” Such a statement is fairly strong, should it be backed up by commitment and action.

On finance, the FT reports that Pierre Moscovici, who is serving a six-year term as an external auditor of the UN, has said that “everybody is aware about the growing complexity of climate finance, but nobody is tackling it”, and that the sheer number of financing initiatives risks becoming “unmanageable”, undermining efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement. Of the existing finance mechanisms available to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility, Mr Moscovici said that there are “too many actors and no strong central body that is overseeing them”.

This must give the organisers of COP28 further food for thought for an already hugely challenging summit.