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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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OPEC Refuses to Kill Itself to Please Transition Fans

  • OPEC has called on its member states to refrain from signing any document calling for the phaseout of hydrocarbons.
  • French Energy Minister Pannier-Runacher: "I am stunned by these statements from OPEC+. And I am angry,".
  • Given the non-existent possibility that OPEC will change its mind and the fact that the same is true of the EU climate change advocates, chances are that COP28 may go down in history as one of the most useless editions of the summit.

This year's COP has been a wealth of climate commitments worth tens of billions of dollars, a number of deals in the transition space, and a couple of scandals.

It has also produced some oddities, such as complaints about the size of the venue that made dealmaking harder for lack of corridors and activists sporting caps with "Emissions" on them to remind Canada's government to approve an emissions cap scheme already, after years of talking about it.

What COP28 certainly did not produce, however, were any surprises when it came to the perhaps central topic of the summit: phasing out oil, coal, and natural gas.

The European Union led the charge against hydrocarbons even before the summit began. Earlier this year, it said it would seek a ban on oil, gas, and coal at COP28 as it stayed true to its word. At the summit, EU representatives urged the world, as represented in Dubai, to give hydrocarbons up in favor of alternative sources of energy. Then, the same representatives were "stunned" when oil-producing nations refused.

This weekend, the media sounded an alarm. The alarm was prompted by a revelation that OPEC had called on its member states to refrain from signing any document calling for the phaseout of hydrocarbons. The letter containing the call stunned French Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher, per her own words, and disappointed EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra.

Related: Tense Negotiations Over Fossil Fuel Phase Down as COP28 Nears End

"I am stunned by these statements from OPEC+. And I am angry," Pannier-Runacher said, as quoted by France 24 on Saturday when news of the letter, authored by OPEC secretary-general Haitham al Ghais, emerged.

The French official added that "OPEC+'s position endangers the most vulnerable countries and the poorest populations who are the first victims of this situation."

Commissioner Hoekstra, for his part, said that, "By many, including by me, that has been seen as out of whack, as unhelpful, as not in tune with where the world stands in terms of the very dramatic situation of our climate," per Reuters.

These reactions are hardly surprising. What is surprising is the fact that the people having them appear to have expected OPEC and its OPEC+ partners to willingly sign up for what would essentially be economic suicide over the long term.

Most OPEC members, including the group's leader, Saudi Arabia, rely on their oil and gas export revenues for most of their budget. Russia, contrary to certain beliefs, is not as dependent on its oil and gas revenues—but they do represent a solid portion of its budget. The Central Asian OPEC+ partners are as oil-based as the Gulf economies.

The EU, which is a major consumer of oil and gas – and of coal, last year – is currently the biggest buyer of U.S. liquefied natural gas. It plans to reduce this dependency but there are zero signs this is happening. On the contrary: Germany is building more LNG import terminals.

The same EU has invoked the plight of poor nations that claim this plight is caused by climate change and the only way to arrest this change is by banning oil and gas and coal—at a time when India and China have made it clear they are sticking with all hydrocarbons, including coal.

It is interesting that the EU is not lashing out at either India or China, two of the world's biggest consumers and the biggest drivers of oil, gas, and coal demand over the medium and long term. The EU is instead lashing out against oil- and gas-producing countries because this has become standard practice: if in doubt, blame oil and gas.

Yet, there should not have been any doubt about OPEC's position on the issue of oil and gas production and the hypothetical phaseout thereof.

As Al Ghais phrased it in the now notorious letter, "It seems that the undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences, as the draft decision still contains options on fossil fuels phase out," he said.


Then he went on to call on OPEC members to "proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy i.e. fossil fuels rather than emissions," as quoted by Reuters. This call is essentially a repeat of the message OPEC's head had for COP28: focus on emissions and not on the industry that produces the bulk of those emissions. Still, there were people who were surprised.

Given the non-existent possibility that OPEC will change its mind and the fact that the same is true of the EU climate change advocates, chances are that COP28 may go down in history as one of the most useless editions of the summit.

The big goal of the event was to clinch a deal for the phaseout of hydrocarbons on a global level. Those pushing this goal apparently ignored such stakeholders such as India, China, and the collective OPEC+, including its newest member, Brazil. Now, when events unfolded exactly as expected, climate officials are shocked and stunned. Perhaps the cure for this shock is setting the world more realistic goals instead of feeding an increasingly unhealthy fixation on oil and gas.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • EdBCN Ayers on December 12 2023 said:
    The title would make a lot more sense if it were: Opec Refuses to Kill Itself to Save Humanity
  • Mamdouh Salameh on December 12 2023 said:
    Global energy transition is based on renewables satisfying total global energy demand. But renewables on their own are incapable of achieving this goal without a huge support from fossil fuels because of their intermittent nature. Today’s technology doesn’t allow for storing solar and wind energy in summer for use in winter.

    If this is the case then why is the world asking OPEC Plus to sign for a phase-out commitment of fossil fuels when there is a need for them to continue driving the global economy well into the future? It is illogical and insane.

    A higher energy contribution by renewable automatically means less use of fossil fuels.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert
  • EdBCN Ayers on December 12 2023 said:
    You are stuck in an old paradigm Mamdouh. You think of energy as if it is a fuel. Think of it as a endless flow of water. There is an endless amount of energy flowing all around us all the time. All we need is to design the right devise to channel it to our needs.

    Batteries abound everywhere, but we're just not used to using them. There is a timer on my dishwasher that allows me to delay it operation by up to 9 hours. They are on almost all dishwashers. I use it to take advantage of low electric rates at night. Matching you energy use to the times when it is available (or cheap) achieves the same thing as a battery. You can do this also with a hot water tank.

    Scientist at Stanford calculate that the cheapest way to make an all-renewables grid is to build quite a bit more generation capacity than you generally need and just dump the power when you don't need it, rather than building a lot of energy storage. Nobody worries about wasting water in the middle of a flood, and nobody should worry about wasting renewable energy when it is overproduced. But in fact there won't be much juice that needs to be dumped- someone will find a use for it. Imagine what our energy use and grid would look like if it hadn't been based on fossil fuels but instead on wind and solar. People would have adjusted to its intermittency right from the start. Whole industries would have been built around using electricity just when it was available.

    Ten years ago your arguments would have made a lot more sense. But technology has moved on since then. Ten years from now your arguments will seem really, really weak, even to you.

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