Don’t trust the oil and gas industry to report its actual carbon pollution, said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who added that the man leading the COP28 climate talks in Dubai this week and next runs one of the “dirtiest” oil companies out there.
“They’re much better at capturing politicians than they are at capturing emissions,” Gore told The Associated Press in a sit-down interview.
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The Nobel Prize-winning climate activist, author, filmmaker, and Climate Reality Project founder blasted COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, who is also CEO of the national oil company of the host nation, United Arab Emirates. Gore said Al Jaber’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) is “one of the largest and one of the dirtiest, by many measures, oil companies in the world.”
It’s also laying plans to increase oil drilling 42% by 2030, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported December 1, just a day before the COP28 secretariat trumpeted a voluntary methane reduction deal that brought together 50 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, including ADNOC.
In previous comments, AP writes, Al Jaber’s colleagues have dismissed media coverage detailing ADNOC’s expansion plans. The company in 2019 announced plans to expand its output to five million barrels per day.
Under-Reporting Oil and Gas Emissions
Gore said he had just released a massive update of the Climate TRACE emissions database that he helped create. It tracks carbon pollution from every nation and city across the globe with 352 million pieces of information.
“The No. 1 surprise was how far off the reporting from the oil and gas industry is,” he said, citing data released Sunday. “And we see it here in the United Arab Emirates, you know, nice folks. But the numbers they put out are just not right. And we can prove they’re not right.”
In an hour-long, data-heavy presentation during the COP, Gore said: “The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company still claims to have no emissions from methane or anything else from the transport of oil and gas. Well, actually, they do. We can see them from space.”
“Why can we see the leakage from space if there are no leakages? Well, these were self-reported emissions,” Gore said. Then showing his data: “And this is the actual emissions. And these are the emissions last year, here.”
In his interview with AP, Gore repeatedly took aim at Al Jaber’s controversial appointment by the UAE to chair the COP. As summit host, the local government chooses the president whose duty it is to guide the talks to the most ambitious outcome negotiators can achieve.
“He’s a nice guy. He’s a smart guy. I’ve known him for years. But he has a direct conflict of interest,” Gore said. “And this isn’t some kind of nitpicking complaint. This goes to the heart of whether or not the world is going to have the ability to make intelligent decisions about humanity’s future.”
Gore added that Al Jaber’s “main job is the head of the oil company. And honestly, when I look at the massive expansion plan that they have to increase their production of oil, 50%, increase their production of gas” after the climate conference ends, he asked, “do you take us for his fools?”
In a rare, combative, and brief press conference Monday, Al Jaber defended his record and the idea of bringing oil companies into the efforts to curb climate change.
“They’ve stepped up,” Al Jaber said of oil industry colleagues. “Is it enough? No.”
‘No Science’ for Fossil Phaseout: Al Jaber
But twice in the last week, Al Jaber and the COP28 secretariat have undermined their own carefully-crafted image as would-be climate leaders. Just prior to the COP, the UK-based Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) and the British Broadcasting Corporation revealed more than 150 pages of briefing notes, produced by COP28 staff, that targeted nearly 30 countries for possible oil and gas trade deals during Al Jaber’s bilateral diplomatic discussions in the lead-up to the COP.
Then yesterday, the CCR and the Guardian revealed a public video of a session two weeks ago where Al Jaber claimed there is no scientific backing for a fossil fuel phaseout. “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phaseout of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5°C,” the COP President told Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders group and a former UN special envoy for climate change, during a live event November 21.
“Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phaseout of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
“The COP President believes there is no science showing that fossil fuels must be phased out to meet 1.5°C. I strongly recommend him asking around for the latest IPCC report,” responded Grantham Institute Director of Research Joeri Rogelj. “That report, approved unanimously by 195 countries including the UAE, shows a variety of ways to limit warming to 1.5°C—all of which indicate a de facto phase out of fossil fuels in the first half of the century.”
The extraordinary sequence of events had UN Secretary-General António Guterres calling out a voluntary industry charter that “says nothing about eliminating emissions from fossil fuel consumption,” and “provided no clarity on the pathway to reaching net zero by 2050, which is absolutely essential to ensure integrity. There must be no room for greenwashing.”
On Monday, Al Jaber responded to the self-inflicted “no science” controversy by appearing at a media conference with veteran climate scientist Jim Skea, recently-named chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by his side.
“Skea or his predecessors don’t typically find themselves sitting at press conferences about a diplomatic controversy,” Bloomberg reports. “But clearly the allegation that a COP president (who also happens to be the head of a national oil company) does not believe in the science is serious enough that the head of the very body that informs global climate targets had to be present.”
“Dr. Sultan has been attentive to the science as we have discussed it and I think has fully understood it,” Skea said.
Too Much Attention to Renewables: Exxon CEO
Meanwhile, in his first visit to a UN climate conference, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods complained bitterly that the annual negotiations have focused on “the electron solution” of renewable energy for too long, the Financial Times reports.
“The transition is not limited to just wind, solar, and EVs,” Woods declared. “Carbon capture is going to play a role. We’re good at that. We know how to do it, we can contribute. Hydrogen will play a role. Biofuels will play a role.”
Industry observers and critics have long questioned fossils’ confidence in all of those emission reduction strategies, but particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS), a still-embryonic industry that has failed to scale up or even successfully complete the majority of its “flagship” projects. Last month, CCS proponents in Canada admitted their technology won’t be ready for prime time by 2035, when federal clean electricity regulations are scheduled to take effect, even though the IPCC’s looming deadline for a 43% global emissions reduction is 2030.
Voluntary Pledges Don’t Work
AP says Al Jaber made a splash at the beginning of the COP28 summit with the announcement that 50 oil companies had pledged to capture leaking and flaring methane emissions from gas production and pipelines. But the problem is that the promises are voluntary. When oil and gas companies in general are asked to report their own emissions they underestimate the total by about a third, and most of the worst methane emitters weren’t part of the deal, Gore said.
“I want to recall for you that two years ago there was the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Well, what’s happened? Well, since that pledge was made, methane emissions have increased almost 2%,” Gore said in his public presentation.
“The final problem I have with (the pledge) is that the main issue is phasing out oil and gas production,” Gore added in the interview. “And they don’t do that. And whenever I see a bright, shiny object held up in front of the public and they say ‘look at this, don’t look at the actual emissions from oil and gas, look at the bright, shiny object’, then I think, you know, come on, we’ve been down this road before and it’s way too late to take us for fools.”
So “let’s get on with it. The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis, and we can solve the climate crisis, stop the temperatures going up, start the healing process by phasing out oil and gas,” Gore said. “And I know they don’t want to do it. And I know that it’s really tough. I mean, look, 80% of the energy we use in our global economy is from fossil fuels.”
The former vice president said he hopes he’s wrong about Al Jaber and that maybe he can deliver more than others have in the past. But he’s not betting on it.
The main body of this Associated Press report was republished by The Canadian Press on December 4, 2023.