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Fossil Fuel Companies Back Toothless “Decarbonization Charter” at COP28 in Dubai

320 organizations denounced the plan as corporate greenwashing and called on the COP28 Presidency to abandon it.

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President of the UNFCCC COP28 Climate Conference, speaks at a presentation of the Industrial Transition Accelerator at Expo City Dubai on December 2, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Hundreds of civil society groups and frontline voices from around the world on Saturday condemned a voluntary pledge heralded by government leaders and fossil fuel giants, calling the “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter” unveiled at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai nothing but a cynical industry-backed smokescreen and greenwashing ploy that will allow for the continuation of massive emissions of carbon, methane, and other greenhouse gases.

“The Oil and Gas Decarbonization Accelerator is a dangerous distraction from the COP28 process,” warned David Tong, the global industry campaign manager for Oil Change International, in a statement from Dubai. “We need legal agreements, not voluntary pledges. The science is clear: staying under 1.5ºC global warming requires a full, fast, fair, and funded phase-out of fossil fuels, starting now.”

Backed by approximately 50 state-run and private oil and gas companies, the stated aims of the pledge, also being referred to as the Decarbonization Accelerator, is to cut upstream emissions of methane to “near-zero” levels and end “routine flaring” — that is, emissions involved with production but not consumption — by 2030 while aiming for a “net-zero operations” target by 2050.

What’s key, say the Charter’s critics, is both the voluntary nature of the scheme and the glaring fact that it does not include 80-90% of the emissions produced by the industry, namely the downstream consumption of their products — the burning of coal, oil, and fracked gas.

An open letter released by 320 groups on Saturday accuses Sultan al-Jaber, president of COP28 and the chief executive of the host nation’s national oil company, of missing a “historic opportunity” by allowing the pledge to grandstand as meaningful progress while the planet experiences its hottest year in 125,000 years.

“The COP28 Presidency appears to have been encouraging fossil fuel companies to make yet another set of hollow voluntary pledges, with no accountability mechanism or guarantee the companies will follow through,” the letter states. “Releasing another in the long succession of voluntary industry commitments that end up being breached will not make COP28 a success. Voluntary efforts are insufficient, and are a distraction from the task at hand.”

By only aiming to reduce “oil and gas operational emissions without sharp reductions in overall fossil fuel production,” the groups argue, the Charter “will fail to achieve the cuts in methane emissions necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Citing recent findings from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Climate and Clear Air Coalition released in October, the letter states that the only way to meet the 1.5ºC target established by the 2015 Paris agreement is to phase out fossil fuels completely — and rapidly.

“Cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas supply chain is an important component of near-term emissions reductions — but it is not enough on its own,” the letter states.

Alongside the industry-backed Charter, 118 nations on Saturday also pledged a tripling of renewable energy by 2030, but green groups say that while welcome, this kind of effort means so much less if fossil fuels are not phased out during that same period.

“The future will be powered by solar and wind, but it won’t happen fast enough unless governments regulate fossil fuels out of the way,” said Kaisa Kosonen, leading Greenpeace International’s COP28 delegation in Dubai.

Oil Change’s Tong also pointed to national promises on renewables in the context of the overall greenwashing effort underway trying to tell the world it can have a renewable energy revolution while also allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue its existence.

“Bundling up the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter with a renewable energy commitment appears to be a calculated move to distract from the weakness of this industry pledge,” Tong said.

“Promising to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency is welcome and indicates momentum for a final agreement at this year’s U.N. climate talks,” he added, “but voluntary pledges cannot be a substitute for a formal negotiated outcome at COP28 for countries to address the root cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuels.”

Journalist and veteran climate organizer Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and now Third Act, said it “isn’t hard” to know what needs to be done or to identify who is at fault for the current crisis.

“If your company digs stuff up and burns it, you’re the problem. It’s time to wind down your business. Past time,” McKibben said.

The green critics of the Charter are clear that the chief culprits should have little say in the way governments and society at large choose to manage the transition from a dirty energy economy to a more sustainable and clean one.

As the letter from the coalition argues, “Voluntary commitments are a dangerous distraction from what is needed at COP28. Oil and gas companies meeting to sign a pledge that only deals with their operational emissions is like a group of arsonists meeting to promise to light fires more efficiently.”

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