UN climate summit incoming head and Adnoc CEO doubles down on push for carbon capture technology

The incoming president of the UN COP28 summit is at odds with leading environment ministers over how to curb global warming while pushing for the continued long-term use of fossil fuels by capturing their carbon emissions.

Speaking at the end of the two-day Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, Sultan al-Jaber, who is also the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, said fossil fuels would “continue to play a role in the foreseeable future”.

The world should maintain “all sources of energy”, he said, while reducing emissions by using carbon capture and storage, a technology that has yet to be proven at scale.

“If we’re serious about mitigating climate change and reducing in a practical manner emissions we must scale up carbon capture technologies,” he said, adding that in the United Arab Emirates “we have embraced a comprehensive, holistic approach to the energy transition.”

A “parallel track” was needed while scaling up sources of renewable energy, he said. “Our aim should be focused on phasing out emissions . . . while allowing socio-economic progress.”

But several ministers and delegates at the summit differed on the long-term outlook for continued oil and gas production and use.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, sharing the stage with Jaber for a closing press briefing, said: “We have to get out of fossil fuels, we have to dramatically reduce emissions.” 

The Danish minister for global climate policy Dan Jørgensen also told the FT there were concerns “about making sure [CCS] does not become an excuse for not making the [energy] transformation we need”.

“I don’t think we should dismiss [CCS]. There are emissions that we are not able to phase out,” he said, pointing to industry examples such as cement making. However, he added: “This should not be seen as something we do instead of replacing fossils with renewables”. 

Also speaking on Wednesday in Berlin, Tina Stege, the climate envoy for the vulnerable Marshall Islands, and Maisa Rojas, Chile’s environment minister, called for “honesty” at COP28 about the end of fossil fuel use.

“We need to really honestly look at where we are, what we haven’t done and what we need to do,” said Stege. “The fossil fuel era has to come to an end.” 

“We . . . want the phase out. We want to make sure if we add new energy, we are taking the old dirty energy out of the system,” added Rojas.

Climate activists have raised concerns about the promotion of carbon capture as a climate solution, arguing that it is a means for oil and gas producers to continue business as usual rather than putting the equivalent investment into wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

“We cannot pretend the solutions to the climate crisis lie with unreliable, untested techno fixes that will bring new risks and threats,” said Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network.

From right to left, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US climate envoy John Kerry, UAE COP28 president-designate Sultan al-Jaber, Demark’s minister of environment Dan Jørgensen and Saudi energy minister Abdulaziz bin Salman. The climate leaders in Berlin for the Petersberg Climate debated the agenda leading to the UN climate summit, including discussion about the continued role of fossil fuels. © AFP via Getty Images

During the Berlin conference, ministers and other delegates from more than 40 countries, held private meetings where discussions included the possibility of an agreement to phase out fossil fuels at COP28 in December.

Last year at COP27 in Egypt, efforts to reach such an agreement failed, despite the support of dozens of countries including the US and EU.

One person involved in the Berlin discussions this week said there had been a debate about the inclusion of the word “unabated” in any agreement, to refer to the phaseout of oil and gas production without the capture of emissions.

Delegates discussed what unabated would mean in practice, what technologies might be used and how to ensure the inclusion of carbon capture and other technologies did not affect a shift to renewable energy.

Denmark’s Jørgensen said a fossil fuel agreement at COP was “realistic” with “momentum” growing, though he added that “some parties are still arguing against it”.

Some of the resistance was related to the view that rich, industrialised countries should be the first to eliminate fossil fuels from their economies, while “there are also producer countries that are not ready yet to make this decision,” he said.

Both Jørgensen and Baerbock also said they were hopeful that a new global goal for renewable energy would be set at COP28. Baerbock called for a global renewables target in Berlin, just weeks after G7 leaders set targets to ramp up renewable energy capacity.

As the UAE readies to host COP28 following on the Egypt gathering that imposed a de facto ban on protests, Jaber said the COP28 team was practising inclusivity with 60 per cent of his staff being women, also mainly from the global south, at an average age of 34 years.