COP28’s Climate Rhetoric Is in Stark Contrast to Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels

COP28’s Climate Rhetoric Is in Stark Contrast to Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels
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Even as the COP28 climate meeting agreed to transition away from fossil fuels, global emissions are on the rise, coal consumption is set to break records, and oil and gas production is booming in the U.S.

CLIMATEWIRE | In Paris eight years ago, world leaders agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. Six years later, in Glasgow, Scotland, they pledged to phase out coal. And on Wednesday, negotiators patted themselves on the back for the first-ever deal to begin “transitioning away” from fossil fuels.

If the past is prologue, it won’t prompt a significant shift in energy markets anytime soon.

The deal — brokered at the U.N. climate summit, known as COP28 — comes as global emissions from fossil fuels continue to climb in 2023. Global coal consumption is on pace to break records. Oil and gas production is booming in the United States. And strong demand for gas in Asia and the Middle East is offsetting waning consumption in Europe.

The dynamic highlights one of the main challenges facing global climate efforts: It takes time for the aspirations espoused at climate talks to produce real-world impact.

But time is now the world’s most precious commodity. The planet has seven years at current emission levels before global warming breaches 1.5 C, the most ambitious target in the Paris Agreement, according to the Global Carbon Project.

“The phase-out from fossil fuel use must be swift if we are to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan.

Yet there is little evidence to suggest that a fossil fuel phase-out is on the horizon.

Strong demand for coal in Asia continues to offset plummeting consumption in North America and Europe, pushing total global coal consumption higher. The 8.3 billion tons of coal consumed in 2022 was a record, according to the International Energy Agency. Coal consumption then grew by 1.5 percent over the first half of 2023, IEA said.

Global oil consumption, meanwhile, is on track to hit 101 million barrels a day in 2023, another record, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Just last week, Nigeria announced a major new refinery had received its first shipment of crude oil, the latest sign that many developing nations see fossil fuels as a way to grow their economies. The U.S. is also pumping more oil than ever. S&P Global Commodity Insights estimates the U.S. is on track to produce 12.7 million barrels a day in 2023, a 154 percent increase over 2005 levels.

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