A Corrupted COP
New revelations show just how bad the oil countries really are
We’re still a day or two away from the official start of COP 28 in Dubai, but in some ways it seems over before it began: revelations yesterday that the host nation had used its official position to leverage new oil and gas deals around the world were a timely reminder that there are entire nations that essentially operate as oil companies, with precisely the same attention to morality as Exxon or Shell.
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The documents, obtained by the Centre for Climate Reporting in the UK and first published by the BBC, showed talking points for meetings between officials like Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, the head of this COP and also of the UAE’s national oil company, and at least 28 countries prior to the start of the offical talks.
They included proposed "talking points", such as one for China which says Adnoc, the UAE's state oil company, is "willing to jointly evaluate international LNG [liquefied natural gas] opportunities" in Mozambique, Canada and Australia.
The documents suggest telling a Colombian minister that Adnoc "stands ready" to support Colombia to develop its fossil fuel resources.
There are talking points for 13 other countries, including Germany and Egypt, which suggest telling them Adnoc wants to work with their governments to develop fossil fuel projects.
Later in the day, another set of Center for Climate Research documents emerged that were even more shocking. They showed that the UAE’s close ally, Saudi Arabia, hard at work on an Oil Development Sustainability Programme which involved hooking African and Asian nations on fossil fuels. It is almost cartoonishly villainous:
The investigation obtained detailed information on plans to drive up the use of fossil fuel-powered cars, buses and planes in Africa and elsewhere, as rich countries increasingly switch to clean energy.
The ODSP plans to accelerate the development of supersonic air travel, which it notes uses three times more jet fuel than conventional planes, and partner with a carmaker to mass produce a cheap combustion engine vehicle. Further plans promote power ships, which use polluting heavy fuel oil or gas to provide electricity to coastal communities.
The new documents, which really must be read to be believed, perform the same essential task as the revelations almost a decade ago about Exxon’s climate lies. They end any pretense that these countries are engaged in good-faith efforts to wind down the industry—instead they’re hooking up with car manufacturers to make cheap vehicles that would keep demand for their crude pumping on.
As Mohammed Adow, veteran campaigner and head of PowerShift Africa told the Guardian, “The Saudi government is like a drug dealer trying to get Africa hooked on its harmful product…The rest of the world is weaning itself off dirty and polluting fossil fuels and Saudi Arabia is getting desperate for more customers and is turning its sights on Africa. It’s repulsive.”
We’re used to the repulsive behavior of Big Oil in this country—above all its decades-long campaign of lies to delay climate action even as its own scientists warned of the consequences. And in fact American oil interests have engaged in just the same behavior. Here’s a story from just three years ago about how they were engaged in an all-out lobbying effort to flood Africa with plastic. As the Times reported in 2020,
“An industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence United States trade negotiations with Kenya, one of Africa’s biggest economies, to reverse its strict limits on plastics — including a tough plastic-bag ban. It is also pressing for Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic garbage, a practice it has pledged to limit.
Plastics makers are looking well beyond Kenya’s borders. “We anticipate that Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying U.S.-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement,” Ed Brzytwa, the director of international trade for the American Chemistry Council, wrote in an April 28 letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
The move, the Times noted, “reflects an oil industry contemplating its inevitable decline as the world fights climate change. Profits are plunging amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the industry is fearful that climate change will force the world to retreat from burning fossil fuels. Producers are scrambling to find new uses for an oversupply of oil and gas. Wind and solar power are becoming increasingly affordable, and governments are weighing new policies to fight climate change by reducing the burning of fossil fuels.”
It’s difficult, I think, to imagine anything much more systemically evil than this spate of bids by the oil companies and oil countries to keep wrecking the planet; it’s akin to the way that tobacco companies, facing legal losses in the U.S., pivoted to expand their markets in Asia instead. But this time the second-hand smoke is going to kill us all. Instead of accepting responsibility for the damage their products have caused and trying to figure out how to make amends, the oil world is instead preparing for what the fine journalists at HeatMap last week called a “lucrative decline.” Big Oil, they wrote, is
planning to extract the last bit of profits from a declining sector, while hoping that energy users everywhere remain dependent upon a volatile, expensive, and polluting – but very profitable – energy source. If newer sovereign producers try to get into the game late (such as Barbados, Senegal, and Mozambique) they might well get caught out by the shrinking oil market. That would leave the cheaper and better-capitalized producers — Gulf countries, or the U.S. majors — to continue selling at a comfortable profit, albeit slightly lower than they’d receive in the pre-peak era.
The head of OPEC, himself a Kuwaiti oil executive, said yesterday that any efforts to hold the industry accountable “unjustly vilifies” it “as being behind the climate crisis.” The new reporting, he said, is “undiplomatic to say the least.” Undiplomatic, in this case, means that someone is trying to rip the veneer off their efforts to use the negotiating process to cover up and extend their crimes. One feels for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who made a big trip to Antarctica in the runup to the COP, trying to bring world attention to the suicide trip we’re taking as a planet.
I have just returned from Antarctica – the sleeping giant.
A giant being awoken by climate chaos.
Together, Antarctica and Greenland are melting well over three times faster than they were in the early 1990s.
It is profoundly shocking to stand on the ice of Antarctica and hear directly from scientists how fast the ice is disappearing.
The only hope, he said, was “a clear and credible commitment to phase out fossil fuels on a timeframe that aligns with the 1.5-degree limit.” Which, of course, is the thing that the new documents showing the UAE and Saudi Arabia doing all in their power to prevent. The very first question that Guterres got at his press conference came from Al Jazeera and addressed the new documents:
Can you react to allegations that the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has been negotiating carbon fuel deals on the sidelines of COP, and that's their intention? Are you worried about this undermining it?
Guterres swallowed hard and said “I can’t believe it’s true.”
But of course he can, and so can anyone else who’s been paying attention for the last 35 years. This is the logical endgame of an immoral group of men quite willing to sacrifice the planet for their power.
The only hope for this COP—and really for this planet—is that our revulsion at revelations like these somehow spurs the movements necessary to break the power of Big Oil.
In other climate and energy news:
+Speaking of standing up to Big Oil, you can play a role in defeating the planet’s single biggest plan for fossil fuel expansion, the buildout of LNG terminals along America’s Gulf Coast. Here’s the petition to sign (and don’t forget to ask your friends and family). If you want to understand what’s at stake not only for the planet but also for the people who live nearby, here’s a fine account from yesterday’s Financial Times, featuring local activists like Roishetta Ozane, living in the Louisana town of Sulphur. “You’re talking about communities that are already overburdened with pollution,” Ozane said. “What they [the companies] keep telling us is that because we already have all the industry and the pipelines, that’s why . . . they’re building the LNG. They’re saying it’s cleaner than the petrochemical facilities that we already have — but we know that that’s a lie.”
There’s also some new possibility of shutting down the egregious Dakota Access Pipeline, as courts begin to weigh the slipshod environmental approvals that got the project up and running in the early days of the Trump administration. You can make a public comment—and you should, since it’s hard to think of a scheme that manages to more perfectly illuminate environmental injustice.
+Kathleen Sullivan, from Third Act Maine, has a lovely account of picketing Costco over the Thanksgiving holiday to urge shoppers not to use the company’s credit card, which is tied to huge investments in fossil fuels.
This kind of activism is new to me and, unlike my friend who has been an activist her whole life, I felt very shy as I handed out flyers about Citibank’s ongoing billion-dollar investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure.
But she persevered, and her insights will give you heart. Meanwhile, United Methodists have renewed their drive to get the denomination to divest from fossil fuels. As campaigners note:
There is a very simple reason why working with fossil fuel companies for climate justice will not work, and it is this… wait for it… they are fossil fuel companies. They exist to make money from selling fossil fuels. Their profits are dependent on our continuing to use a multi-trillion dollar fossil fuel infrastructure
If you have any doubts about this, see the revelations above.
+Environmental justice pioneer Dr. Robert Bullard is raising money for a flood relief project in his Alabama hometown. It’s not only an important effort, but a chance to say thanks to a true giant for his work.
+The price of batteries—after a short pandemic-caused pause—has begun to plummet once again, according to a new Bloomberg report. They were down 14 percent last year, which is good news for every solar and wind project—at these prices, there’s no reason to fear sunset!
+Timely reporting from Jacobin on the fact that Amazon isn’t keeping its pledge to cut carbon emissions:
Amazon — which is keenly aware of the danger of its decarbonization plans failing — is by far the biggest emitter of the “Big Five” tech companies, and its overall emissions have risen by almost 40 percent since announcing the Climate Pledge.
While that’s already a major jump, in reality, it is likely even higher: unlike competitors such as Target, Amazon uses a creative form of accounting to massively understate its carbon footprint. In its carbon methodology, Amazon acknowledges that it only includes “Amazon-branded product manufacturing, such as Echo devices, Kindles e-readers, Amazon Basics, Whole Foods Market brands, and other Amazon Private Brands products.” But this is just the tip of Amazon’s carbon iceberg: a mere 1 percent of total sales.
+Some remarkable reporting from Dick Callahan on the water use policies of Israel and the resulting environmental damage. It’s not heartening reading. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a fascinating (and beautiful) account from the Seychelles of why scientists are starting to fear a very rapid rise in sea levels around the world.
By studying the long-dead coral reefs, researchers have revealed not only how high sea levels can reach, but where the deluge will hit hardest. As temperatures surge and ice sheets melt, the fossils show, the oceans won’t rise evenly around the planet. Instead, the loss of polar ice will trigger profound changes in Earth’s gravity and shape — which, in turn, will create dramatic disparities in where ocean water flows.
But the most worrying lesson from this research may lie in the differences between the time of the corals and today. Researchers warn that the warming brought about by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions is unlike anything that has previously happened in the Earth’s history. That means modern sea level rise may not exactly mirror what happened last time — it might be worse.
+Stockholm is trialing new electric ferries that will cut commute times in half. Take a look:
+The endlessly wonderful Rebecca Solnit wonders whether one planet can support so many billionaires.
Billionaires are a menace to the rest of us: their sheer political size warps our public life. Disproportionately older, white and male, they function as unelected powers, a sort of freelance global aristocracy who are too often trying to reign over the rest of us. Some critics think that the supergiant tech corporations that have spawned so many modern billionaires operate in ways that resemble feudalism more than capitalism, and, certainly, plenty of billionaires operate like the lords of the Earth while campaigning to protect the economic inequality that made them so rich and makes so many others so poor. They use their power in arbitrary, reckless and often environmentally destructive ways.
Meanwhile, new research indicates that the carbon footprints of just 12 billionaires is equal to two million normal homes
+In Ohio, the state government has decided to open public parks for fracking. One hardly knows what to say. But I guess it’s the point I’ve been trying to make throughout this column.
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