An “inevitable” phasing down of fossil fuels is coming

The head of the forthcoming COP28 – or to give it its full name, the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – has urged oil producers to prepare for an “inevitable” phasing down of fossil fuels.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber’s words are particularly striking as he is himself also CEO of Adnoc, one of the world’s largest oil companies.  

In a recent Financial Times interview, he commented: “I don’t want the 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. And what they need to do is start investing in the decarbonisation of the current energy system.”

He is urging the world’s largest fossil-fuel intensive companies to join a so-called Global Decarbonisation Alliance and some 20 of them are in discussions to do so.  Membership would entail committing to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and near-zero methane emissions, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

As the world grapples with the urgent need to address climate change, this year’s conference promises to be a pivotal moment in shaping global efforts towards a sustainable future.

So what is the urgency for action? Why is an oil phase down necessary?

Rising global temperatures demand swift action

The threat posed by climate change has become increasingly evident in recent years. Rising global temperatures are causing unprecedented changes in our ecosystems, leading to extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and loss of biodiversity. If left unchecked, these trends could have catastrophic consequences for our planet and future generations.

To combat these challenges effectively, scientists have identified greenhouse gas emissions as a primary driver of climate change. Among these emissions, carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels plays a significant role. As one of the largest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions globally, oil extraction and consumption must be urgently addressed.

Dr Al Jaber, incoming head of COP28 is encouraging energy companies to commit to net-zero by 2050 and join a Global Decarbonisation Alliance. Picture from COP28.

Health impacts and environmental degradation

Oil production not only contributes to greenhouse gas emissions but also poses severe health risks and environmental degradation. The extraction process often involves drilling deep into fragile ecosystems such as forests or offshore areas rich in biodiversity. These activities disrupt habitats while releasing toxic pollutants into air and water sources.

Furthermore, burning oil releases harmful pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that contribute to air pollution and respiratory issues among communities living near extraction sites or major transportation routes.

Economic opportunities in the transition to alternatives

While the need to phase down oil is driven primarily by environmental concerns, there are also significant economic opportunities associated with transitioning to cleaner alternatives. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind power have seen remarkable advancements in recent years, becoming increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels.

Investing in renewable energy infrastructure can create new jobs, stimulate local economies, and reduce dependence on imported oil. Additionally, countries that embrace clean energy technologies will be better positioned to lead the global transition towards a low-carbon future.

The agenda of COP28: a call for action

At COP28, world leaders and stakeholders will come together to discuss strategies for mitigating climate change and accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. One of the key agenda items is a call for an urgent phase down of oil. 

By targeting these areas, governments aim to significantly reduce their reliance on oil while simultaneously promoting sustainable alternatives that can drive economic growth without compromising environmental integrity.

The call for an oil phase down centers around reducing global oil consumption through a combination of policy measures and investment in alternative technologies. In relation to mobility and transport, this commitment involves: implementing stricter regulations on carbon emissions from transportation sectors; promoting electric vehicles (EVs) as a viable alternative to traditional combustion engine vehicles; encouraging investment in public transportation systems; and supporting research and development of advanced biofuels.

Achieving an effective phase down of oil requires international cooperation among nations worldwide. To this end, COP28 seeks to foster collaboration between governments, businesses, civil society organizations, and research institutions.

Through knowledge sharing and joint initiatives focused on technology transfer and capacity building, it is hoped that companies and countries will come together at the Dubai COP to learn from one another’s experiences while maximizing their collective impact.

Some key questions

1. What is the timeline for implementing the proposed oil phase-down?

While the specific timeline for implementation may vary among countries, the urgency of addressing climate change necessitates swift action. COP28 will serve as a platform for countries to set ambitious targets and develop concrete plans for reducing oil consumption within a reasonable timeframe.]

2. Will an oil phase down lead to job losses in the fossil fuel industry?

While there may be some job displacement in the fossil fuel industry during the transition, investing in renewable energy and other sustainable sectors can create new employment opportunities. Governments should prioritize reskilling and retraining programs to ensure a just transition for workers affected by these changes.

3. How can individuals contribute to phasing down oil?

Individuals can play a crucial role by adopting more sustainable lifestyle choices such as switching to an electric vehicle or using public transportation, supporting renewable energy initiatives, and advocating for stronger policies that promote clean energy alternatives.

4. What challenges might arise during the process of phasing down oil?

Implementing an oil phase-down will undoubtedly come with challenges such as resistance from vested interests, economic implications, and technological barriers. However, through effective governance structures and collaborative efforts between various stakeholders, these challenges can be overcome.

5. How does an oil phase down align with existing international agreements like the Paris Agreement?

An oil phase down aligns closely with the goals of international agreements like the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming well below 2C above pre-industrial levels. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels like oil, countries are taking significant steps towards achieving these targets.

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23 Oct, 2023