For the past two weeks, the world's best and brightest have been meeting in Dubai — under a glittering, color-changing dome built to resemble Islamic geometric art — as the petrostate hosts the United Nations' latest climate change conference.
And experts are calling bull. In interviews with The Guardian, climate scientists and advocates said the "solutions" offered at the COP28 conference, which include such goofiness as a panel on "responsible yachting," are "distractions" at best and "frightening" at worst.
Troublingly, the conference is presided over by Dubai's Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who also runs the United Arab Emirates' national oil company in what seems very much like a massive conflict of interest.
Al Jaber sparked controversy last week when he publicly expressed pessimism about a gradual fossil fuel phase-out and said there was "no science" behind it, which is categorically false given that the vast majority of scientists — not to mention the UN's secretary-general — say that eliminating fossil fuel pollution is absolutely the biggest and most important way to turn back the tide on the worst of what climate change has in store.
Notably, oil companies in both the Middle East and stateside have invested heavily in carbon removal technologies, which are promising enough as a tool in what should be an arsenal to fight back against climate change, but are being touted as a catch-all solution that an increasing number of experts say is a waste.
"It’s frightening because they see this as a new business opportunity, a new way to make money and continue as before," climate researcher Pierre Friedlingstein told The Guardian.
Friedlingstein leads a project called the Global Carbon Budget out of the University of Exeter in England that looks, in part, into the efficacy of the sort of expensive carbon capture and removal projects touted by the oil barons and tech tycoons at COP28. Thus far, the results have been damning, with such technologies removing more than a million times less carbon than is currently being emitted.
"They will scale this up, and if they do it by a factor of 100 in the next 10 to 20 years, that would be amazing, but they won’t scale up by a factor of 1 million," Friedlingstein decried. "There is no alternative to reducing emissions massively. These technologies are a distraction, a way to pretend we are dealing with the issue, but we aren’t."
As The Guardian's reporting cites, a new report by the German non-governmental organization Climate Analytics has warned that an additional 86 billion tons of carbon could be released into the atmosphere if these technologies underperform after further investment, and a separate Oxford study found that it would cost a trillion dollars per year to build them out to scale.
While global leaders "can’t take anything off the table" to solve the climate conundrum, Steve Smith, the executive director of Oxford's Net Zero initiative, said that reducing emissions needs to be paramount.
"There’s not much scope for either/or," Smith told The Guardian. "It’s both/and. This technology isn’t a false solution — there’s no one solution.”
As such big names as Bill Gates and US climate envoy John Kerry continue pushing these persistently expensive fixes without committing to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, so too will climate change worsen — until the global community actually starts moving away from fossil fuels, which have been produced in higher measure than ever in recent years.
"We have housing insulation, we have electric vehicles, we have renewables, we have batteries," Friedlingstein said. "Scaling them up is not trivial, but we don’t need a magical new technology for the first 90 percent of this problem."
More on climate change: Carbon Dioxide Is Becoming More Fearsome, Scientists Find
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