COP28 chief urges energy groups to prepare for fossil fuel ‘phase down’


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Sultan al-Jaber, president-designate of this year’s UN climate summit, said the oil and gas industry must prepare for an inevitable “phase down” of fossil fuels as he warned the sector should not be seen to work against decarbonisation efforts.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Jaber — who is also head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas groups — said he is in talks with fossil fuel producers about an initiative focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions that is due to be launched at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai later this year. 

“I don’t want this industry to be seen in any way, form or shape that they are going against the phase down [of fossil fuels]. This [phase down] is happening,” he said. 

“And what they need to do is start investing in the decarbonisation of the current energy system.” 

More than 20 fossil fuel-intensive companies, encompassing up to a quarter of all oil and gas production, are in active talks to sign up to the initiative already, he said. He was “applying pressure” on others to join the so-called Global Decarbonisation Alliance, Jaber said.

Companies that back the alliance, which was first reported by the Financial Times, will be asked to commit to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, as well as a target of “near zero” emissions of methane, a virulent greenhouse gas, across their entire value chain by 2030, he said. 

Adnoc said in July it would aim to achieve net zero emissions from its operations by 2045 rather than 2050 and cut methane emissions to zero by 2030, although it is investing just 10 per cent of its capital spending over the next four years on decarbonisation.

The company also has aggressive plans to raise oil output capacity from more than 4mn barrels a day to 5mn by 2027, though actual production is constrained by Opec quotas.

Jaber’s role as president of COP28 while also managing an expanding oil company has been criticised by politicians in the US and Europe, although others such as US climate envoy John Kerry argue he can play an important role in driving change in the oil industry. 

Jaber said COP28, which will take place in November and December, could lead to big changes to the global energy system. As well as the oil and gas initiative, Jaber is also pushing for countries to reach a collective agreement to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. 

“We’ve had 27 COPs. Please let me deliver something tangible this time,” he said.

Speaking to the FT from Abu Dhabi’s main hydrocarbon conference, Jaber also called for the oil and gas industry to scale up and commercialise carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), a technology that has yet to be proven at scale.

Jaber said CCUS would have to play a role in helping the world reach net zero emissions by 2050. “It is one of many solutions we should pursue and we should pursue aggressively,” he said. 

“We need actions, guys. Let [the oil industry] take actions now . . . getting them to agree and sign up to the phase down of fossil fuel and . . . apply scale and . . . capital and commercialise this CCUS technology,” he said. 

Jaber has previously set a “mid century” timeline for the phase down of fossil fuels used without their emissions being captured, known as unabated fossil fuels. The EU and other countries are pushing for an agreement to be made at COP28 on ditching fossil fuels. 

This year’s COP summit, which marks the culmination of a year’s worth of negotiations between countries on how best to tackle climate change, will also include a “stocktake” of what progress the world has made in cutting emissions.

Jaber’s methane target, if well supported, would be a big win for his stewardship of the climate summit. Methane is the main component of natural gas and is a potent contributor to global warming, accounting for about 30 per cent of the global temperature rise since the industrial revolution. 

Jaber said he was optimistic that a loss and damage fund, which was agreed last year to help countries affected by global temperature rises, would be operational by COP28.

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