Fossil-fuel producing nations lobbied on key aspects of the UN climate report released this week, with carbon capture technology emerging as one of the flashpoints in eleventh-hour discussions between government negotiators signing off on the definitive climate change research.
Discussions were sent into overtime as carbon capture and storage and carbon dioxide removal technologies featured among the issues thrashed out in debate about the final wording of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “summary for policymakers” at meetings in Interlaken, Switzerland.
The report concluded that global warming in the near-term was “more likely than not” to see a rise in temperature of 1.5C since pre-industrial times and called for urgent action to address climate change.
During the negotiations among researchers and policymakers over the final wording, Saudi Arabian representatives pushed for an emphasis on the technologies that aim to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
This caused consternation among other participants who wanted a greater focus on cutting emissions “rather than relying on unproven technologies”, people familiar with the talks said.
While the latest UN report acknowledged the role that carbon capture and storage could play in reducing emissions, the authors cautioned that such technologies came with “feasibility and sustainability concerns”.
“Implementation of CCS currently faces technological, economic, institutional, ecological, environmental and sociocultural barriers”, the report said. “Currently, global rates of CCS deployment are far below those in modelled pathways limiting global warming to 1.5C to 2C.”
Critics of carbon capture and storage say the presently expensive and under-developed technology is used by oil and gas producers as a way to maintain business as usual rather than to phase out fossil fuel production and shift their business models to renewable energy.
“I’m sure there are some countries that are going to cherry pick [messages from the IPCC report] . . . and just look at the potential of carbon dioxide removal,” said another person familiar with the talks.
The Saudi stance did not surprise IPCC veterans. In 2021, representatives of the kingdom sought to replace references to “carbon emissions” with “greenhouse gas emissions”, people familiar with the discussions said at the time.
The United Arab Emirates, the petrostate due to host this year’s UN climate summit, was not particularly vocal during discussions on the latest report, another person familiar with the talks said.
However, COP28 president-designate Sultan al-Jaber, who is also the head of the state-owned oil company Adnoc, has been consistent in stressing the need for a reduction of emissions rather than a reduction in fossil fuel production.
Speaking at CERAWeek this month, he called for the oil and gas industry to roll out carbon capture and storage technology, and urged policymakers to create incentives to “bring down the cost of carbon capture”.
The UN climate change report places extra pressure on the COP28 process at the UAE this year. The commitment by governments to phase out fossil fuels rather than phase them down became a sticking point in the language agreed at the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in 2021.
The promotion of carbon capture technology at COP28 was something “we’re quite worried will be high on the agenda”, Lili Fuhr of the non-profit Center for International Environmental Law based in Switzerland said this week.
The agenda for COP28 was being discussed by government leaders at a two-day climate ministerial meeting Copenhagen this week, where Jaber reiterated the need to “commercialise carbon capture”.
Among those attending the Copenhagen meeting was EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, China’s vice-minister of ecology and environment, Zhao Yingmin, and German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan.
Last week, Jaber also attended a roundtable in Paris at the International Energy Agency, including more than 50 country representatives and energy company executives, and later met French president Emmanuel Macron.