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Fear of compromise on the key 1.5°C global temperature limit as fossil fuel conversations dominate the COP27

November 14, 2022, 1:28 PM UTC

Strong action against global warming is quickly being eroded at this year’s COP27 as fossil fuel lobbyists at the UN climate conference attempt to dull the language around the Paris Agreement.

Several unnamed countries want to omit mentioning the 1.5°C limit on the increase in global temperatures in the official text of the COP27 summit, U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry said to reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Saturday.

“You’re absolutely correct. There are very few countries, but a few, that have raised the issue of not mentioning this word or that word,” Kerry said when asked about opposition by some governments to mentioning the 1.5°C target, or 2°C limit at worst, which was first agreed to in 2015 as part of the historic Paris Agreement.

Cutting out the 1.5°C language in this year’s draft agreement would be a huge step back from the COP26 last year, which took place in Glasgow, where all signing countries reaffirmed their promise to the Paris Agreement.

“But the fact is that, in Glasgow that was adopted, the language is there. And I know…Egypt doesn’t intend to be the country that hosts a retreat from what was achieved in Glasgow,” Kerry said.

While the Paris Agreement was seen as a breakthrough in international climate ambition, the world has still been barreling toward this limit, mostly abetted by the continued burning of fossil fuels. The world has already warmed more than 1.1°C from the preindustrial average temperature, fueling extreme weather, food insecurity, and death.

But as the conference heads into its second week, fossil fuel producers have sought to distance themselves from the Paris Agreement, claiming they are removed from the discussion of global warming. Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told the Financial Times on Sunday that the Paris Agreement was “achievable” but “we don’t see this as a discussion about fossil fuels.”

Fossil fuel producers are shaping climate talks

This year is the first year oil and gas companies have been invited to participate in the official program of events at COP27 in Egypt. Fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, producing 89% of the total global CO2 emissions.

There are 636 fossil fuel lobbyists working for oil and gas companies and Middle Eastern governments registered to the COP27 climate talks, marking a 25% increase from the year before, according to NGO Global Witness. The petrostate United Arab Emirates, which has agreed to host next year’s COP28 summit, has the most lobbyists of any country with 70 official delegates. Fossil fuel lobbyists outnumber representatives from the 10 countries most impacted by climate change, according to GermanWatch, which include U.S. territory Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Mozambique, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and Nepal.

Fossil fuel producers fear their own viability in the wake of the energy transition and are looking to negotiate a compromise in which their sector can continue to explore for and sell oil and gas, while the world still reduces emissions.

“You can achieve carbon neutrality while producing fossil fuels, and we’re proving that in Saudi Arabia,” al-Jubeir told the FT. Al-Jubeir, who reportedly dined with John Kerry on Sunday, did not comment on whether he wanted to keep 1.5°C in the text, saying he “would leave that to negotiators.”  

Saudi Aramco has other suggestions to stop climate change. The state-owned oil giant hosted a “green initiative” event over the weekend, which featured its CEO Amin Nasser and TotalEnergies chair Patrick Pouyanné, where they touted tree planting, carbon capture technology, hydrogen fuel derived from gas, and a “circular carbon economy,” or recycling, as climate solutions instead of making any commitment to stop drilling oil and gas out of the ground.

“I have been to eight COPs, and never seen any such blatant oil and gas promotion from a presidency before,” David Tong, campaigner at Oil Change International, told the FT. “There’s no legitimacy in a COP presidency giving a big platform to major polluters without even asking them hard questions.”

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