‘We need to stop’: Inside the world’s first diplomatic alliance to keep oil and gas in the ground

Environment

Sheep on a road in view of mobile offshore drilling units in the Port of Cromarty Firth in Cromarty, U.K., on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — Costa Rica and Demark are spearheading efforts to build the world’s first diplomatic alliance to manage the decline of oil and gas production.

The co-leaders of the initiative, known as the “Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance,” are seeking to establish a deadline for the end of oil and gas production that would get countries aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement. This legally binding treaty aims to limit global heating to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — and preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Meeting the conditions of the agreement is widely recognized as critically important to avoid an irreversible climate crisis.

The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance is expected to formally launch at U.N.-brokered climate talks in early November, a summit known as COP26.

Until then, Costa Rica and Demark are seeking to persuade as many countries and jurisdictions as possible to join them in bringing an end to oil and gas production.

It comes at a time when policymakers are under intense pressure to meet the demands of the climate emergency. Burning fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, is the chief driver of the climate crisis, and yet the world’s fossil fuel dependency is expected to get even worse in the coming decades.

Speaking on Thursday during an online webinar hosted by the International Renewable Energy Agency, Dan Jorgensen, minister for climate, energy and utilities for Denmark, said: “The science is clear. We cannot negotiate with nature.”

“There is no scenario in which we burn all the oil and gas that we can find and in which we stay below 2 degrees — and definitely not 1.5. It is just not possible, so we need to stop.”

They are simply inferior technologies by now. They weren’t inferior last century but, in this century, given the rise of all the other alternatives that we have, they have become inferior technologies.
Christiana Figueres
Former U.N. climate chief

Denmark pledged in December last year to end all future licensing rounds on oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and put a stop date of 2050 on oil and gas production. At that time, the relatively small European country was the largest oil producer in the European Union.

“On one hand, if you look at it, it is a huge thing to ask a country,” Jorgensen said, acknowledging the challenge of trying to persuade others to sign up to the alliance.

“What you are saying, like one of my political opponents did when I proposed this in Denmark, is: ‘So, basically you want us to say no to free money? You want us to stop pumping money out of the ground so that others can do it instead of us?'”

“And I had to say: Well, yes,” Jorgensen continued. “But it is for a good reason.”

Climate hypocrisy

Andrea Meza, environment and energy minister for Costa Rica, said on Thursday that some opposition political parties were pushing the country’s government to consider using oil and gas revenues to pay for their energy transition. “We are very clear that this is not the right pathway.”

Costa Rica, a Central American country of around 5 million people, has never extracted oil. What’s more, it is currently considering a bill to permanently ban fossil fuel exploration to ensure that no future government does so.

When asked during the same webinar why other countries would consider joining their initiative, Meza said that platforms such as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance need to exist to show others that it is possible.

“It is just one planet,” Meza said. “This is not about doing things in the right way in the internal part of our countries and selling … all of the old technologies outside of our borders. This is not fair.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C), Costa Rica’s First Lady Claudia Dobles (L) and Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy Andrea Meza (R) are seen during the launch of the National Land Use, Land Cover, and Ecosystems Monitoring System (SIMOCUTE) in San Jose, on June 2, 2021.
EZEQUIEL BECERRA | AFP | Getty Images

Research published in the scientific journal Nature on Sept. 9 found that the vast majority of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground to have some hope of preventing the worst effects of climate change.

Separately, analysis published by Carbon Action Tracker on Wednesday, showed that none of the world’s major economies are currently on track to contain global heating to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It follows a bombshell report from the influential, yet typically conservative, International Energy Agency earlier this year. The IEA concluded that there could be no new oil, gas or coal development if the world was to reach net zero fossil fuel emissions by 2050.

Environmental activists and Native Americans march to the construction site for the Line 3 oil pipeline near Palisade, Minnesota on January 9, 2021. Line 3 is an oil sands pipeline which runs from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin in the United States.
KEREM YUCEL | AFP | Getty Images

Denmark’s Jorgensen said it would be “impolite” to name specific countries, but described it as a “paradox” that many governments were touting their commitment to net zero by 2050 while also quietly planning to extract oil and gas to sell to others. These countries include the U.S., Canada, Norway and the U.K., among others.

“You are not going to burn it yourself and you think others shouldn’t either, but you will make money selling oil to other countries? It doesn’t make sense,” he added.

Jorgensen said he did not want to dismiss the fact that signing up to the yet-to-be-revealed pledges of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance would come with difficult economic choices, particularly those heavily reliant on oil and gas. “But, it is the tough questions that we need to ask ourselves.”

“Can we live with a future where we don’t do this? I don’t think that we can.”

‘Inferior technologies’

Speaking alongside Denmark’s Jorgensen and Costa Rica’s Meza on Thursday, former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres addressed the urgent need for governments to dramatically scale down fossil fuel use. She cited air pollution, caused mostly by the burning of fossil fuels, which kills an estimated 7 million people worldwide every year.

Figueres also stressed that the economic imperatives for moving beyond oil and gas were compelling. “They are simply inferior technologies by now. They weren’t inferior last century but, in this century, given the rise of all the other alternatives that we have, they have become inferior technologies.”

Pipes for the Baltic Pipe gas pipeline are stacked at Houstrup Strand, near Noerre Nebel, Jutland, Denmark, on February 23, 2021. The Baltic Pipe gas pipeline, which is to come ashore at Esbjerg, on the west coast of the Jutland peninsula, will transport ten billion cubic meters of gas every year from the Norwegian gas fields in the North Sea through Denmark and to Poland.
JOHN RANDERIS HANSEN | AFP | Getty Images

An increasing number of cities banning the use of fossil fuel burning vehicles was likely to usher in “the demise of oil,” Figueres said. The end of gas production may take longer given that it is recognized as a transition fuel, she said, but still not more than 20 to 30 years as there are alternative fuels coming on the market, such as hydrogen and ammonia, “that will be able to compete favorably.”

In summary, Figueres said the economic case, “pounding” litigation in Europe and elsewhere and a social license for these fuels that has been “completely lost,” showed that there is no more space for oil and gas production.

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