Multipolar World

Phase out of fossil fuels – do as the EU and the US say…

Jorge Costa Oliveira

Several countries in the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, as well as NGOs, have been campaigning to include language about the “phasing out” of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) in an agreement at COP28. Other countries are pushing for less imperative language, to “phase down” fossil fuels.

The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

The EU and the USA (and small countries vulnerable to climate change) say they support the phasing out of unabated fossil fuels. However, the actions of European and North American governments do not match their verbal statements; although the words support phasing out, the respective governments continue: (i) not to approve any timetable for such (the USA); (ii) to approve new forms of fossil fuel exploration (the USA and Canada with oil and gas extracted from rock compression, and several European countries increasing the exploration of oil, gas, and coal), as well as new exploration around the world by European and American oil companies; and (iii) to consider natural gas a green energy source for energy transition purposes (the EU). There are reasons for this.

The war in Ukraine has emphasized concerns about energy supply security. On the other hand, there are still various uncertainties (on the economic impact, on energy infrastructures, on the costs of transition, on available alternatives, on the disruption of markets) underlying the period of energy transition. In addition, there is the powerful lobby of American and European companies operating in the fossil fuel sector; in the USA its power is such that it is hardly credible that Congress will honor the pledges that the American government representatives are making at COP28.

A report from the United Nations Environment Programme concluded that meeting climate targets would require an almost total phase-out of coal production by 2040 and a 75% reduction in oil and gas production by 2050. However, according to 2 of the scenarios outlined by the International Energy Agency (IEA), namely in the STEPS scenario, we are increasingly far from being able to meet the primary target of 1.5°C of the Paris Agreement. Various estimates point to a warming >2.5°C by 2100.

If not even regarding the progressive elimination of coal energy it is possible to reach an agreement at COP28 and a realistic and fair timetable (a concern of many developing countries), perhaps it is time to rethink the goals and timetables for the energy transition. If there were any doubts before, it seems clear now that many countries do not want or do not believe that Net-zero in 2050 is possible. With each passing year, the difference between the optimistic goals established in the Net-zero 2050 scenario and the real situation arising from the inertia of public policies and the response of oil producing companies to global demand, it will become clearer. And it is not serious to sell to voters and consumers scenarios of rapid reversal and catalyzation of the pace of energy transition.

Categories Multipolar World Opinion