The fossil fuel industry threatens to sabotage COP28 as United Nations (UN) climate talks open today at Expo City, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. There is no shortage of talk about conflicts of interest as industries, investors, and complicit government representatives attend talks where UN delegates are expected to plan a phase down or phase out of industries’ extraction and use of climate-warming oil, gas, and coal.
This, as swift, effective action to address the climate crisis has never been more urgent. COP28 is being held during the hottest year ever recorded, one of destructive storms, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters. It’s clear further delay in implementing the real solutions needed to take effective action on a global, systems scale will only continue to harm people and the planet.
Fossil Fuel Industry Interests Flood COP28
Much public controversy was stirred up well ahead of COP28, starting with the mere fact that the UN talks are being held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is one of the world’s biggest producers of fossil fuels, the main ingredient in plastics and many of plastic’s toxic additives.
What’s more, the appointed presiding host of the talks is the head of Adnoc (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company), Dr. Sultan Al Jaber. In addition to being hosted by the head of the United Arab Emirates’ biggest oil company, investigations suggest that ahead of the talks, Adnoc was preparing to strike fossil fuel deals with negotiating nations. Two days before COP28, Jaber rejected accusations that the UAE planned to market fossil fuel dealings during the climate talks.
Also ahead of COP28, fossil-fuel friendly Saudi Arabia was outed for quietly developing a significant global investment plan—the oil demand sustainability program (ODSP)—to drive demand for its oil and gas in developing nations. And we learned the United States has produced record-setting amounts of oil and gas in 2023, and only plans to continue expanding. Meanwhile, global production of plastic is expected to triple by 2060, with fossil fuels increasingly used to make the material due to rules clamping down on fossil fuel uses for combustion.
This is far from the first time industry interests have attempted to take over global climate talks. In the last 15 years, COPs have also been held in fossil-fuel friendly Egypt and Qatar. However, this year’s leadership by a major representative of the fossil fuel industry is unprecedented. Continued and increasing fossil fuel presence at COPs and in other climate change talks is widely viewed as part of the industry’s attempt to avoid regulation.
Future of People and the Planet at Stake
COP has been held annually since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was ratified in 1992. As human-driven climate change intensifies, increasingly warming the Earth and its inhabitants, urgency for solutions grows.
In addition to potentially negotiating an agreement to phase down or phase out fossil fuels, UN delegates are also expected to finalize the details of a “loss and damage” fund for compensating poorer countries that have been disproportionately harmed by the climate crisis while not having greatly contributed to global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the fund text, in its current form, fails to require wealthy nations to pay into it while also housing the fund in the World Bank, which continues to fund unjust, unhealthy, and damaging coal projects.
This year’s meeting is especially important, as it represents the first Global Stocktake of progress for the 196 UN parties that have agreed to take action to slow global warming. The focus of the 2015 Paris Agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially from fossil fuel use and production, in order to stay below the threshold of a 1.5 degree Celsius (or more) rise in average global temperature above pre-industrial times by 2100.
But according to the UN’s own experts, humanity realistically now has only a 14 percent chance of meeting the 1.5 degree target. We are far more likely to see a nearly 3 degrees Celsius rise in average global temperature by the end of the century due to industries’ continued extraction, processing, transportation, storage, use, and sale of fossil fuels. According to scientists, if we exceed 3 degrees of heating, the Earth could pass several catastrophic, deadly, and irreversible tipping points, including mass desertification of rainforests and total melting of ice sheets. This would put the survival of much life on Earth, including human lives, at risk.
Our Allies Speak Out at COP28
Climate experts stress that real solutions to the climate crisis begin with keeping existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We must also address climate-warming greenhouse emissions from major industries such as industrial agriculture, transportation, shipping, and of course production of plastics. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies and some governments continue to hide behind technologically focused fixes like “advanced” recycling of plastics and carbon-capture-storage (CCS), which only perpetuate pollution and injustice, and do not actually diminish human dependence on fossil fuels.
In a world where limits are increasingly placed on fossil fuel combustion, production of plastics has been identified by industries as an area for continued growth and profits—despite plastics causing widespread harm to people and human rights, wildlife, the planet, and the climate.
To help communicate key facts and stress the need for urgent, effective action to address the interconnected climate and plastic crises, Plastic Pollution Coalition Executive Advisory Board Member Dr. Michael K. Dorsey, and Youth Ambassadors Xiye Bastida and Sophia Kianni are among some of our allies participating in COP28. In Dubai, on December 7, Youth Ambassador AY Young will host “THE RECHARGE,” a solar-powered music-meets-climate-solutions event with many special guests. In all, the UN estimates more than 70,000 attendees will be present at the talks.
Though the challenges ahead are great, a growing sense of awareness is driving people to take action. And, as the Dalai Lama pointed out as the talks opened today, there are many inspiring people making the change we need today.
We see worrisome signs that the industries, investors, and governments driving the climate crisis are serious about resisting the change they must make to avert the most severe impacts of global warming. Representatives from the U.S. and China—the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters—who plan to attend COP28 include U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua. However, absent from the talks are the nations’ Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping of the United States and China.
Despite identifying the climate crisis as a focal point of attention and action, President Biden has allowed the fossil fuel industry to continue to grow under his leadership. You can help show the world that we demand that industries and governments act to protect the environment, and put people before—and not after—profits. Tell the president to stop approving new and expanded petrochemical and plastic facilities to help protect communities from pollution and the climate crisis.