Cop out? Hard truths in Dubai…
I recently heard a Sustainability Professional protesting that their vehicle would have to pay Clean Air Zone (CAZ) charges. Their complaint implied that their day job should somehow allow them to pollute – otherwise they wouldn’t have mentioned what they did for a living. So they were happy to tell other people to change, but them changing their own vehicle/travel patterns was a step too far.
I mused on this when I saw the OPEC letter circulating at COP28 desperately pleading that the final agreement should focus on emissions not fuels, as if the latter weren’t responsible for the former. It ran a similar line of thought to the CAZ guy: everybody has to change. Except us.
Of course, for OPEC countries this is an existential threat. These regimes and economies fundamentally rely on oil and gas for their very existence, so Dubai hosting COP28 was a bit like the world’s turkeys population holding a fundraiser for Christmas. While we in the West derided COP President’s Sultan Al Jaber’s outburst about going back to living in caves, in the Middle East that ain’t too far from the truth. If/when the oil economy fades, so will the wealth and power of the region.
In every societal revolution there are losers as well as winners. Kodak and Blockbuster were destroyed by the digital revolution they could have led, but chose not to. The coming renewable electricity, electric vehicle and heat pump revolutions will drive down demand for fossil fuels from the richer nations, while supply chain measures both voluntary and mandatory (such as the Carbon Boundary Adjustment Mechanism) will pressure suppliers in lower income countries to switch to cleaner energy.
Whatever the final agreement at COP, I suspect there will be a loophole for OPEC to cling to the belief that ‘abated fossil fuels’ will form part of the future. But like CAZ guy, they’re going to have to face up to the fact that change is gonna come, sooner or later.