The United Arab Emirates Cop28 presidency is working on an alliance to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector.
The UAE has been discussing an initiative, provisionally named the Global Decarbonization Alliance, alongside a group of company executives.
The alliance is expected to set a goal to reach net zero emissions from extracting oil and gas by 2050, according to a leaked letter from Cop28’s energy transition lead reported by the Financial Times.
But Romain Ioualalen, a campaigner at Oil Change International, told Climate Home the initiative was just a “recycling” of similar programmes which he says have not amounted to much action.
Most emissions ignored
Campaigners have also criticised the focus on just the emissions from producing oil and gas rather than the much larger emissions from the use of fossil fuels.
Roughly 80-95% of the oil and gas sector’s emissions are from the use of their products but the initiative would only target those from extracting them.
Producing fossil fuels damages the atmosphere as gas leaks into the atmosphere or is burned as a waste product. Many of the vehicles and machinery used in the industry are polluting too.
Similar existing alliances have the same focus. These include the US-led net zero producers forum (NZPF), the energy importers and exporters on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and the industry-run oil and gas climate initiative.
Ioualalen said the proposed alliance is another example of a “tried and true tactic” of the fossil fuel industry to carry on business as usual.
“They are talking about everything but the one thing that really matters in driving down emissions, which is reducing oil and gas production,” he said. “As long as these are not the terms of discussion, it can’t be described as a legitimate effort”.
The International Energy Agency has found that fossil fuel production should drop by a factor of nearly four between 2020 and 2050 if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Denmark and Costa Rica have led an effort to get governments to end oil and gas production but only a handful of fossil fuel-producing nations have signed up.
The Financial Times reported the alliance would be discussed in a workshop taking place this week in the UAE.
On Wednesday the Cop28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber hosted a meeting with executives from fossil fuels, financial and tech companies in the UAE.
Al Jaber called on the oil and gas industry to work collectively to reach net zero by 2050 and net zero methane emissions by 2030.
The President-Designate highlighted the importance of collaboration on the decarbonization pathways and discussed tangible solutions to address the urgent need for emissions reduction. pic.twitter.com/lk4wG7jhIW
— COP28 UAE (@COP28_UAE) May 11, 2023
He also remarked on the importance of “building up an integrated creative partnership”, but stopped short of launching a formal alliance.
According to a source with knowledge of discussions, the plans are still being developed with no clear timeline for an announcement.
The Cop28 chief has repeated several times that the oil and gas industry should be invited to the negotiating table.
Launching his agenda last week, Al Jaber said that he sees a role for fossil fuels “in the foreseeable future”, calling for a phase-out of “fossil fuel emissions” rather than “fossil fuels”.
That opens the door to the continued use of fossil fuels as long as their emissions are captured by carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
The Cop28 team has been developing plans for the initiative with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a group of over 200 companies including some of the largest oil and gas producers.
Peter Bakker, the group’s CEO, wrote last week that “WBCSD has been in close contact with the UAE Cop28 team to help shape the agenda”.
He added the organisation’s efforts focused on a “big push for decarbonization action in the oil and gas and hard-to-abate sectors through the Global Decarbonization Alliance”.
The WBCSD told Climate Home the Cop28 team is currently in the process of developing plans to ensure a comprehensive approach.
The Cop28 team said it would not comment on leaked reports.
The leaked outline of the proposed Cop28 alliance bears many similarities to existing net zero initiatives for the fossil fuels industry.
In April 2021 the United States launched the Net-Zero Producers Forum, alongside major fossil fuels-producing nations Canada, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The initiative aimed to “develop pragmatic net-zero emission strategies”. This could include stopping methane leaks and flaring, deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies, and diversification from reliance on hydrocarbon revenues, according to the original statement.
After the initial announcement, the initiative went quiet for nearly a year. Energy ministers from the five participating countries re-launched the forum again in March 2022, when they held an inaugural meeting in Houston, the USA’s oil and gas capital.
Fossil fuel executives from Chevron, Saudi Aramco and Equinor also attended the meeting. The main outcome was the creation of a working group to find solutions to phase out unabated fossil fuel emissions.
Two months later the United Arab Emirates joined as the sixth member of the initiative. There has been no public mention of the activities of the Forum since then and its lead, the US Energy Department, did not respond to a request for comment.
Another country-led coalition took shape at Cop27 last November. The US, European Union, Japan, Canada, Norway, Singapore, and the United Kingdom committed again to reducing emissions associated with fossil energy production, with a particular focus on methane.
Industry’s own alliance
The fossil fuel industry has separately been working on its own alliance. In 2014 twelve major oil and gas companies set up the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.
Like the Cop28 initiative, it sets signatories a target of reaching net zero emissions “from operations under their control”. But it does not set a target date.
The emissions from producing oil and gas can be significant. Recent satellite data reported by the Guardian revealed that Turkmenistan’s oil and gas infrastructure leaked more greenhouse gas than the whole of the United Kingdom in 2022.
While some campaigners dismiss it as a distraction, others like Clean Air Task Force’s methane director Jonathan Banks, support action to reduce oil and gas’s direct emissions.
He told Climate Home News last April: “Reducing oil and gas methane is by far the simplest and biggest thing we could do in the next few years to dramatically reduce global warming. It’s not rocket science. We don’t have to build any fancy new technology. It’s basically plumbing.”