UN secretary-general António Guterres attacked oil and gas industry attempts to justify fossil fuel expansion with carbon capture technology as “proposals to become more efficient planet wreckers”, in a speech that appeared to be a thinly-veiled critique of the UAE hosts of COP28.

The industry’s stated plans to deal largely with the emissions behind global warming by capturing them, rather than phasing out production, were undermining the climate agenda, Guterres said.

The UAE COP28 president-designate Sultan al-Jaber, who is also the head of the state oil company Adnoc, has consistently reflected the industry view that the focus should be on the control of emissions.

“Let’s face facts. The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels — period,” Guterres said. “We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open, with far too many willing to bet it all on wishful thinking, unproven technologies and silver bullet solutions.”

Guterres noted that for every dollar the industry spent on oil and gas drilling and exploration, only 4c went to clean energy and carbon capture combined. “Trading the future for thirty pieces of silver is immoral,” he said. He added on Thursday that his comments were “not aimed at any one individual” but were an appeal to “those who have the power to change”, urging fossil fuel companies to shift their entire business to renewable energy.

Sultan al-Jaber at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn, the halfway point to COP28 © BENJAMIN WESTHOFF/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The remarks come five months before the petrostate UAE is due to host COP28 in Dubai, led by Jaber. More than 130 US lawmakers and members of the European parliament wrote to UN officials and others last month to request the UAE withdraw Jaber from the role, arguing that his position as head of the state oil company risked “undermining the negotiations”.

The halfway point to COP28 was marked on Thursday in Bonn, Germany, with the conclusion of discussions over an agenda. Countries were deadlocked until the penultimate day, when they finally managed to agree on what issues might be carried over for consideration at COP28.

While the EU had proposed an agenda item about work to cut emissions, it was ultimately not included following pushback from a group of oil and gas producing nations including Saudi Arabia. Instead, the discussions on the issue at Bonn will be recorded in a “note”, to inform the talks at COP28.

Pakistani co-chair of the Bonn talks, Nabeel Munir, at one point warned the negotiators that all their work would be wasted if an agenda was not officially adopted, accusing them of acting like a “primary school class”. The ambassador, whose country has been devastated by floods, urged them to “please wake up, what is happening around you is unbelievable.”

One notable outcome at Bonn was a decision by the UN to require all participants at future climate COPs to disclose their affiliations. That follows years of pressure by campaigners demanding greater transparency at UN climate negotiations over concerns about fossil fuel industry lobbying.

Progress at Bonn is considered a key milestone in negotiations ahead of COP28. Climate experts had hoped that the UAE presidency would outline its vision for the Dubai summit, and expressed disappointment on Thursday.

While Jaber took a step further than before to say at a meeting in Bonn that the phase down of fossil fuels was inevitable, this did not include a timeline or a plan for ending new oil and gas production.

Whether the COP28 presidency would allow countries to have an “open and transparent discussion” about including a commitment to phasing down fossil fuels in the final COP decision text remained the key question, said Alden Meyer, from the think-tank E3G.

Extracted in full from: UN chief attacks oil and gas industry ‘planet wreckers’ over fossil fuel expansion | Financial Times (ft.com)