The flagship Cop28 announcement from 50 major oil and gas companies that they will cut emissions - but not stop drilling - has been widely criticized as a greenwashing strategy and “smokescreen” by the climate community.
The so-called “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter” is one of the showiest pledges from Cop28 host, the United Arab Emirates, in partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Vast state-owned operations like Saudi Aramco and US majors including ExxonMobil have signed up to the deal to “speed up climate action within the industry”.
The companies account for 40 percent of global oil production, the charter said. But major oil companies from other large producers in China, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, and Qatar have not added their names.
The Charter says that oil companies will align around net zero by or before 2050; “zero-out” emissions of methane, which is much more powerful than carbon dioxide over the short-term; eliminate routine flaring by 2030 which emits high volumes of greenhouse gases; and work towards “best practices” in emission reduction.
“We need the entire industry to keep 1.5C within reach and set even stronger ambitions for decarbonization,” said Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 president, and chief executive of the UAE’s national oil company Adnoc.
The Cop28 president has presented his powerful position in the fossil fuel industry as one which can garner more ambitious action from oil and gas companies, and said they can be “central to the solution” to fighting the climate crisis.
It’s a big ask: The industry, which made in excess of $200 billion last year, spent just 2.5 per cent of total capital spending on clean energy. Fossil fuel emissions, which need to be cut in half in the next six years, rose 1.2 per cent this year instead.
Sultan Al Jaber has also come under intense scrutiny after the BBC and the investigative Centre for Climate Reporting revealed earlier this week that the UAE planned to use its role as Cop28 host to strike oil and gas deals. (“The documents referred to in the BBC article are inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings. It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting,” a Cop28 spokesperson told The Independent.)
Hundreds of climate and human rights campaigners across six continents rejected the oil and gas charter, saying that it is a voluntary pledge with no commitment to reduce burning fossil fuels, the leading cause of the climate crisis. The pledge is a “smokescreen to hide the reality that we need to phase out oil, gas and coal,” read the letter from more than 300 civil society groups.
The bulk of the fossil fuel industry’s emissions (80-90 per cent) come from the burning oil and gas - not “operational emissions”, the coalition warned.
The widely-respected International Energy Agency said earlier this year that there can be no new oil, gas and coal expansion if countries want a fighting chance of remaining at the somewhat safe global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“This isn’t hard. If your company digs stuff up and burns it, you’re the problem. It’s time to wind down your business. Past time,” said Bill McKibben, longtime climate activist, and founder of the organizations 350.org and Third Act.
David Tong, Global Industry Campaign Manager, Oil Change International, dubbed it a “dangerous distraction” from the Cop28 process.
“We need legal agreements, not voluntary pledges,” he said. “The science is clear: staying under 1.5C global warming requires a full, fast, fair, and funded phase out of fossil fuels, starting now.”