The president of this year’s United Nations’ climate talks urged the oil and gas industry Thursday to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by or before 2050 in a speech to oil producing states.
Speaking at a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna, Sultan al-Jaber urged members to invest heavily in renewables and work toward reducing planet-warming emissions from third parties, such as those released by suppliers or customers.
He also encouraged nations to reach net zero methane emissions by 2030. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term and is released into the atmosphere by the oil and gas industry through leaks or flares.
Al-Jaber, who’s set to head up the talks known as COP28 in Dubai in December, is the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s largest oil producers, as well as the United Arab Emirates’ renewables firm Masdar.
He urged OPEC nations to “show the world once more how essential this industry is to the solutions we need” for the climate crisis. Scientists and climate activists have repeatedly called for fossil fuels to be phased out to limit warming.
Meanwhile, the head of global energy giant Shell said it would be “irresponsible” to cut oil and gas production at a time when the world economy is still dependent on fossil fuels in an interview with the BBC released Thursday.
The oil and gas industry accounts for around 15% of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
Al-Jaber’s appointment as head of the climate talks was widely criticized by climate activists. Lawmakers in United States and Europe have called for him to be replaced given his ties to the fossil fuel sector and for the industry’s influence at the upcoming talks to be sharply limited.
He’s countered criticism at various international meetings, including the climate talks at Bonn, Germany last month, with claims that the talks will be “inclusive” and deliver a “game-changing outcome” for international efforts to tackle climate change.
A report by the group Climate Action Tracker earlier this year showed that many major producers of oil and gas, including the UAE and the United States, are currently increasing production.
“The sector is acting like there’s a gold rush, not a climate crisis,” the authors had warned in March.
Continued fossil fuel production goes against a global pledge to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times, the report said.
Scientists say that in order to achieve that goal, emissions need to be halved by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century, meaning all emissions are either slashed or canceled out somehow.