by Miceál O’Hurley
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — COP28 President His Excellency Dr. Sultan Al Jaber stunned the COP24 gathering yesterday when in reply to a question from former Irish President Mary Robinson about phasing-out of fossil fuels during the She Changes Climate event Al Jaber replied, “there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5.” Al Jaber said he had expected to come to the meeting to have a “sober and mature conversation” and he would not be, “signing up to any discussion that is alarmist.”
Robinson, like many climate activists at COP24 have been critical of the event being hosted in a country whose economy is fossil-fuel driven. Unsurprisingly, there has been significant criticism that the fossil fuel industry and their international partners are dragging their feat on the phasing-out of fossil fuels which scientists have for decades identified as the driving force in human induced climate change.
The exchange between Robinson and Al Jaber served to highlight the approaches to countering climate change. Al Jaber claimed that the goal of reducing temperature escalation to 1.5 degrees was his “north star.” Still while Al Jaber admitted a phase-down and phase-out of fossil fuel was “inevitable” he cautioned restraint counselling, “we need to be real, serious and pragmatic about it.” The increasingly vitriolic exchange between Al Jaber and Robinson left him pleading, somewhat sardonically, “…please, help me, show me a roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuels that will allow for sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
Some 60,000 people are expected to attend the Conference of the Parties (COP) COP28 in Dubai. Organisers hope the meetings will deliver on agreements settled previously during COP24 in Katowice, Poland; COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland; and COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Given the burgeoning number of fossil-fuel industry and oil producing countries activists fear that with the world on track to surpass climate benchmarks set to restrain human impact on climate change COP28 will prove a failure. 2023 is on the glidepath to be the warmest year yet on record. Concerns that an El Niño weather event may extend well into 2024 could lead to the release of more heat than previous weather models had anticipated.
If Marshall McLuhan was correct in asserting, “the medium is the message” then the BBC’s report that the U.A.E. had developed a plan to use the COP28 summit to explore new fossil fuel deals with more than a dozen countries confirms serious climate change activist’s worst fears about having awarded the hosting of such an event to a country whose economy is built on fossil fuel production and sales. The U.A.E. is one world’s ten largest oil producers, with some 3.2 million barrels being produced a day. The awarding of host country status to the U.A.E. has caused significant international controversy since the announcement was made it would host COP28.
Yesterday, a coalition of activists calling themselves Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) claimed that at-least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists have been granted access to COP28. According to KBPO there are significantly more fossil fuel lobbyists than almost every country delegation with the exception of Brazil which boasts 3,081 people and the UAE which is hosting COP28 outnumbering fossil fuel lobbyists with 4,409 outnumber them. KBPO claims that with the UAE essentially siding with the fossil fuel lobby COP28 has essentially been “highjacked” by the very sector causing the most significant harm to the environment thus driving uncontrolled climate change.
The European Union (EU) and China are also at loggerheads over climate change policy and objectives. The EU has put its concerns about China’s climate ambitions and carbon market integrity practices at the forefront of its climate agenda. Unsurprisingly, China has opposed the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM). CBAM is the EU’s new instrument for preventing ‘carbon leakage’, a term referring to a shifting of the production of goods to non-EU countries where there is a lower or no-carbon cost associated with production. The mechanism is applied to so-called CBAM goods imported to the EU from outside the EU and specified in an EU Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2023/956 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 May 2023 establishing a carbon border adjustment mechanism). It is part of the EU Fit for 55 Package.
The EU’s goal is to apply CBAM to see the prices of certain goods imported to the EU to more accurately reflect their carbon content. EU policy makers also hope that it will serve to encourage third countries, foreign producers and EU importers to reduce their emissions. CBAM began its transitional phase on 1 October 2023. Countries like Brazil, who are aligned with China in their opposition to CBAM, have complained that it is essentially a border tax that disproportionately harms developing economies and unfairly depresses trade. The EU remains concerned that the movement of carbon heavy production offshore, to jurisdictions with less stringent environmental standards unfairly burdens domestic production where the fight for climate change reduction policies impose higher costs on producers. Taxing carbon emissions at the border is an instrument the EU believes will create a more level playing field for industry and help ensure higher environmental goals are achieved by deterring adherence to lesser standards by offshore production and investment in such countries where climate change policy has yet to keep up with EU and global norms.
Although countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and Türkiye all have domestic production with high levels of export to the EU, and might otherwise be most impacted by CBAM carbon levies the share of their EU exports of CBAM products is relatively small in terms of their global trade. The deepest repercussions fall upon smaller countries and developing economies their overall trade volume with the EU makes them particularly vulnerable to what is essentially a carbon levy more easily absorbed by bigger producers and exporters. Africa and South America are particularly vulnerable to CBAM levies. Unsurprisingly, Brazil has become the banner carrier for opposition to CBAM.