Fossil fuel lobbyists at climate summit

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The 27th Climate Summit conference in Egypt ended last Sunday with mixed reviews about its success. It was supposed to end on Saturday but had to be extended because no agreement had been reached by then. The final agreement was considered weak despite attempts by the summit organizers to claim it a breakthrough.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, said: “Our planet is still in the emergency room. We need to drastically reduce emissions now – and this is an issue that this COP did not address. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.”

One of the reasons that the final agreement was judged a failure on effort to cut carbon dioxide was because oil-producing countries and high emitters weakened and removed key commitments on greenhouse gases and the phasing out of fossil fuels. This year’s climate summit is also unique in its being the first to invite fossil producers like oil and gas companies to participate in the official program of events. For example, the delegation of Saudi Arabia said that they did not see the effort to limit global warming as being “a discussion about fossil fuels.”

Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, is now chief executive of the European Climate Foundation. She said: “The influence of the fossil fuel industry was found across the board. This COP has weakened requirements around countries making new and more ambitious commitments on cutting emissions. The text (of the deal) makes no mention of phasing out fossil fuels and scant reference to the 1.5C target.”

Climate activists have questioned the legitimacy of having oil and gas companies participate officially in the summit. According to a climate NGO Global Witness, there were more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists registered for the summit in Egypt. According to the Financial Times: “What Saudi Arabia and some other fossil fuel-reliant countries at the summit are keen to discuss is how they can continue to produce oil and gas. The focus should be on reducing emissions, not targeting the sector, they argue.”

In an interview, the delegate from Saudi Arabia claimed that carbon neutrality can be achieved while still producing fossil fuels. Tubiana warned that the Egyptian presidency “… produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petro-states and the fossil fuel industries.”

David Tong from another climate NGO, Oil Change International, said: “I have been to eight COPs and have never seen any such blatant oil and gas promotion from a presidency before. There is no legitimacy in a COP presidency giving a big platform to major polluters without even asking them hard questions.”

Tubiana added: “I don’t think we can continue having to cope with such an overwhelming presence. They have so much money to do public relations… they come when they see that things are getting really bad for the industry.”

US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said that it was disappointing that the United States was not able to provide leadership on raising capital for the shift to clean energy in poorer countries. He said: “The fossil fuel industry runs a very complex and elaborate operation to attack climate measures, usually hiding its hand behind front groups… It is a massive political influence operation – it is very powerful.”

Alok Sharma of the United Kingdom and president of the Global Summit last year in Glasgow, Scotland expressed anger at the close of the Egypt conference. He said: “Those of us who came to Egypt to keep 1.5C alive, and to respect what every single one of us agreed to in Glasgow, i.e. 2021 Climate Summit, have had to fight relentlessly to hold the line. We have had to battle to build on one of the key achievements in Glasgow, the call on parties to revisit and strengthen the national plans on emission.”

Sharma joined in efforts to include a phasedown of all fossil fuels in the final agreement. However, due to intense lobbying, this proposal was reduced to a commitment to phase down only coal. Sharma said: “I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5C was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support.”

The only semi-bright provision in the final agreement was the setting up of a fund for “loss and damage,” which is supposed to pay out to rescue and rebuild physical and social infrastructure ravaged by extreme weather events. The funds will be provided by the rich countries for the benefit of the poorer countries who hardly have any emissions but oftentimes bear the brunt of climate change like typhoons, floods, hurricanes.

While the United States and the European Union have agreed to contribute to this fund, other major sources of emission including China and Saudi Arabia are allowed to contribute on a voluntary basis. These two countries have insisted that they are not developed countries but should be classified as developing countries and therefore have no obligation to provide funds for the poorer countries.

Next year’s climate summit will be in Dubai, one of the biggest oil producers in the world.

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Our November writing date: Nov 26, 2-3 pm., Young Writers’ Hangout with returning facilitator Susan Lara on the “Power of Brevity.” Contact [email protected]. 0945.2273216

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