COP28 Vows To Triple Renewables, Reverse Deforestation And Slow Oil

COP28 vows to triple renewables and reverse deforestation — promises that might be easier to make than to keep. The idea is that adding more wind, solar, and energy efficiency will infringe on oil, natural gas, and coal markets.

But a closer read shows that COP28 in Dubai had no Hollywood ending. While nearly 200 countries approved measures to transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energies, critics pointed to the “loopholes” in the language. Most notably, the Global South can’t rapidly adopt renewables and slow deforestation if they don’t get carbon financing — something the wealthier nations are slow to do.

“We are in a disheartened state,” says Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan, during COP28. “These commitments have yet to be fulfilled. We call on your unwavering shift to confront temperature rises in the small island developing states on the front lines. Ninety percent of our country’s infrastructure is low-lying and vulnerable” to rising tides and coastal erosion. “Seychelles diverts much-needed finance to climate protection instead of health and education.”

But will tripling renewables, doubling energy efficiency measures, and stopping deforestation by 2030 erode oil, coal, and natural gas usage?

The International Renewable Energy Agency commits to getting the Global South the financing it needs to green up — a pivotal element to reach 11,000 gigawatts by 2030. The agency will, therefore, focus on physical infrastructure, policy and regulation, and institutional and human capacity.

While it may be wishful thinking, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts fossil fuel usage will peak internationally in 2030 — a function of electric vehicle adoption. It nevertheless adds that oil and gas will still comprise 46 percent of the global energy portfolio in 2040.

Even Exxon Mobil Corp. calls IEA scenario “highly unlikely,” saying that countries won’t sacrifice their living standards. It adds that a permanent cut in production would raise energy prices — not reasonable, especially now when Russian oil is essentially banned internationally. In the meantime, Shell, which has roughly 50,000 megawatts of renewable generation and invests in wind, solar, and electric vehicle charging, said it wouldn’t lead the charge to a new energy era.

COP28 Has Holes

On the one hand, the oil giants have the cash to invest in alternative energy sources. Conversely, their legacy businesses are producing and delivering oil and gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the outlook for renewables is bullish. They will increase from 21% in 2021 to 44% in 2050, mainly wind and solar power — in this country.

“COP28 needed to deliver an unambiguous statement about the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels. That would represent a rupture from previous COPs and business as usual – which is what is needed now, given record-breaking global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, that did not happen,” said James Dyke, from the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, in a statement.

“While the agreement’s call to transition away from fossil fuels is welcome, it has numerous caveats and loopholes that risk rendering it meaningless when it comes to our efforts to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius,” he added.

Climate scientists told me that action is urgent. Pierre Friedlingstein of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute and the Global Carbon Budget’s lead author said temperatures rose 1.1 degrees Celsius over the last year. And if nothing changes — fossil fuel usage and deforestation rates remain unchanged — then we will hit 1.5 degrees in 2030. That means more extreme weather patterns — the kind that the low-lying island nations fear most.

While the United States’ CO2 releases have fallen by 3% in the last year, they are 14% of the global pie. This country is also a significant oil and natural gas producer, cutting into its incentive to act with the urgency required to sidestep global climate goals. At the same time, the United Arab Emirates hosted COP28. It is the sixth largest oil producer in the world, pumping 3.2 million barrels of oil daily.

“In every sector, you have the natural leaders,” Tim Lenton, professor of climate change at the University of Exeter, told me during COP. “And you have the ones resisting change. But you don’t need everyone to change upfront. We need to reach the tipping point of a particular group, and everyone else will follow. The early adopters and leaders make all the difference.”

How to Avert A Climate Tipping Point

With that, Lenton explained how to avoid a climate tipping point. For example, the rainforests are already up and running. They are natural carbon sinks, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. According to the Rainforest Foundation of Norway, the good news is that deforestation rates are falling in Brazil, Colombia, and Indonesia by 50%, 70%, and 75%, respectively. Brazil’s emissions have fallen to the equivalent of half of all the United Kingdom’s in 2022.

Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the “earth’s lungs,” making up half of the world’s primary rainforests. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the rainforest nations are leading the climate cause: Belize, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, and Nambia, are among the countries that are net carbon removers.

“The (COP28) agreement gives a glimmer of hope with ambition to halt deforestation,” said Toerris Jaeger, director of the Rainforest Foundation of Norway, in a statement. “But the slow progress on fossil fuels threatens rainforests.”

Ideally, COP28 would have had a Hollywood ending, and everyone could live happily ever after. That’s not the case. The saga, therefore, continues until next season.

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