COP28 host announces fossil fuel industry emissions pledge, while scaling up carbon capture technology

Smoke rising from multiple stacks.
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As the United Arab Emirates (UAE) COP28 host has tried to burnish its green image, its state fossil fuel company has doubled-down on technologies of climate delay.

On Monday 2 October, Reuters reported the news that COP28 president sultan Al Jaber has announced that over 20 oil, gas, and heavy industry firms have pledged to curb their greenhouse gas emissions. Al Jaber didn’t disclose any names of the companies that had made the commitment. However, he confirmed that they would be made public at the upcoming climate summit.

The COP28 head told Reuters:

I will launch my programme at COP, and those who want to be seen as a responsible, reliable and committed energy player… this is the day that they need to judge: which camp do you want to be in?

However, as the news site noted, the president-designate has come under fire from multiple countries for leaning into loophole technology. Specifically, they have criticised the COP28 host’s promotion of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a decarbonisation solution for big polluters.

It figured, then, that on the very same day, the UAE’s state oil firm – headed by Al Jaber – also announced a multi-million dollar investment in the nascent technology.

COP28 host’s carbon capture gamble

On Tuesday 3 October, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s (ADNOC) gas subsidiary said it had awarded a $615m contract for a project announced last month to build:

Read on...

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carbon capture units, pipeline infrastructure and a network of wells for carbon dioxide injection

In addition to this, it announced it would partner with a US firm to study the feasibility of a major project. In particular, the partnership focused on a venture to extract carbon dioxide from the air. This direct air capture (DAC) project is hoped to capture one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and store it in “saline reservoirs not used for oil and gas production”.

Direct air capture is similar to carbon capture and storage (CCS) in that it removes emissions to be stored underground. However, whereas CCS is tied to industrial plants, DAC captures emissions from the air in any location.

Regardless, the problem with both technologies is that they let fossil fuel companies off the hook for their burgeoning emissions. Rather than scaling back their carbon-emitting operations, companies can claim emissions reductions after the fact.

Currently, however, neither technology has been proven at scale. For instance, climate scrutiny site Desmog recently conducted an analysis of twelve large-scale fossil fuel industry-run CCS plants. Notably, the outlet identified:

a litany of missed carbon capture targets; cost-overruns, and billions of dollars of costs to taxpayers in the form of subsidies

This echoes the results of previous studies that have found the existing technology falls far short of its purported aims. One example comes from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), which concluded that ten out of 13 CCS sites it analysed had:

failed or underperformed against their designed capacities, mostly by large margins.

Scientists are saying it

Evidently, none of this has stopped the COP28 president from defending the fossil fuel industry’s use of carbon capture technology. Reuters reported that Al Jaber pulled the classic “scientists are saying it” card, arguing:

It’s not me who is saying this, it is the scientists and responsible intergovernmental agencies… and also the facts on the ground

Only, what the scientists and intergovernmental agencies have been saying is that CCS will be needed for the sectors that are the most difficult to decarbonise. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates the use of CCS for production sectors like cement, iron, and steel. The International Energy Agency has articulated similar. Notably, the fossil fuel industry isn’t ‘hard to decarbonise’ – it’s a carbon generator, pure and simple.

In spite of this, Al Jaber has staked his COP28 legacy on welcoming fossil fuel companies into the fold. He opined to Reuters:

Are we after decarbonization, or are we after some ideological idea against oil and gas? We are after emissions, so let’s stay focused on that, that is our enemy; let’s fight that, let’s not fight an industry that has helped shape the world we are all in today.

Emissions over action

And his latest spiel perfectly encapsulates the slippery ruse at play. By focusing on emissions, companies can use CCS while continuing to pump out gallons of oil and gas. Worse still, so far the technology has even aided oil and gas extraction. As Desmog explained in a separate analysis:

Of the 32 commercial CCS facilities operating worldwide, 22 use most, or all, of their captured CO2 to push more oil out of already tapped reservoirs.

Naturally, Al Jaber-headed ADNOC exactly this. Desmog pinpointed the COP28 host’s CCS operations at a steel plant, noting:

Most of the CO2 ADNOC already captures is pumped into existing oil wells, forcing residual crude to the surface

As the Canary previously detailed, the state firm also plans to plough over US $100bn into fossil fuel projects between 2023 and 2030.

All of this goes to show that putting the fossil fuel company boss in charge of COP28 is – predictably – a calamity for climate. If the upcoming summit will achieve anything, then, it will be the unscrupulous greenwashing of an industry the world desperately needs to put to bed for good.

Feature image via BBC News/Youtube screengrab

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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