Al Gore blasts COP28 failure to phase-out fossil fuels


Al Gore warned the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade could die now that world leaders failed to agree on phasing out fossil fuels.

The 28th UN climate change summit known as COP, held this year in Dubai, is set to conclude on Tuesday with a draft agreement that will have been written by and for the petrostates, according to the former U.S. vice president. 

“This obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word,” he wrote on Monday.

Long before Greta Thunberg ever went on school strike and crystallized Gen Z’s fears over the warming planet they will inherit, Gore had been raising awareness as an advocate, including through his 2006 Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Thanks to the COP21 declaration in Paris, the world agreed eight years ago on the long-term target to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels. The European Union has even written this into its legislation, allowing citizens to litigate against companies and countries that fail to comply.

While COP has since grown in importance to become a major event in the global calendar, critics fear it has also subsequently become more and more a soapbox for greenwashing riddled with special interests. Supporters agree it is not perfect, but it remains the only dedicated forum for dialogue.

“In order to prevent COP28 from being the most embarrassing and dismal failure in 28 years of international climate negotiations, the final text must include clear language on phasing out fossil fuels,” Gore continued. “Anything else is a massive step backwards from where the world needs to be to truly address the climate crisis and make sure the 1.5°C goal doesn’t die in Dubai.”

Committing to their phase-out has proven to be too contentious an issue, however. Instead, oil-dependent countries like COP28 host United Arab Emirates (UAE) argue technology is under development that would enable economies to capture emissions from burning fossil fuels and safely store them. Carbon sequestering, also known as CCS, remains in its infancy however, and has never proven itself commercially as a cost-effective solution at scale.

Like defense companies dominating a peace conference

Belgian scientist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a former vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, subsequently branded COP28 a “monument of schizophrenia” full of talk and no action. He pointed to a text that included 115 mentions where policymakers acknowledge the numerous risks but only five that reference concrete decisions to prevent them.

“The prescribed treatment is a mixture of wishful thinking and magic,” van Ypersele said.

COP28 host UAE has itself come under fire for installing Sultan al Jaber, the CEO of the country’s petroleum giant ADNOC, as the president of this year’s summit. This cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry will likely change little with next year’s summit scheduled to be held in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, a city on the Caspian Sea rich in oil and natural gas reserves.

The failure in Dubai highlights how economic damage wrought by a once-in-a-century pandemic, a war in Ukraine and the resulting bout of high inflation have all combined to sap political will on the subject. Other issues like uncontrolled migration dominate the headlines once more. 

As a result, next year’s COP29 in Baku could be held against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s re-election. The former President is himself an avowed climate change denier who has branded the issue a hoax, opposed renewable energy from offshore wind because it causes whales to go crazy and briefly succeeded in pulling the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.

Gore’s disappointment was shared by British climate activist George Monbiot, who condemned COP28 as a summit already hijacked by lobbyists from fossil fuel and livestock producers. Writing in the Guardian, he said vested interest attendees outnumbered those of government delegations in almost all cases.

“It’s like allowing weapons manufacturers to dominate a peace conference,” he argued on Saturday.

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