There has been a little noticed paradigm shift in disruptive climate protest movements around the globe. In April, Extinction Rebellion said its Earth Day weekend rallies in Parliament Square, the UK drew 100,000 participants over four days and resulted in zero arrests — in contrast to 2019, when a similar rally led to more than 1,000 detentions.
This followed the group’s decision to shift away from public disruption in order to “prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks”. The group initially had recourse to direct actions, such as gluing themselves to roads, stripping in Parliament, staging “die-in”s in museums and traffic-blocking protests, which prompted police intervention and arrests. Similar events were witnessed elsewhere in Europe and beyond.
According to WZB Berlin Social Science Centre, “people have quite a negative view of climate protests”, especially when they are of radical and disruptive nature. The fact that both the oil industry and the climate activists are taking a milder stance in their relative positions, might contribute to better and more constructive outcomes in this year’s COP negotiations in Dubai, the UAE.
On the other side the UAE, which holds the COP28 presidency while also being a major oil exporter, is home to an increasingly progressive mindset on how not just to use its oil for prosperity but, for progressive work on climate change as well.
The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange announced the listing of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company-Masdar’s green bonds from October 10th. The bonds, which debuted on the London Stock Exchange in August will help funding the Gulf country’s new clean energy projects as it moves slowly but surely away from oil.
Masdar, the UAE’s energy company, is looking to expand its renewable energy capacity five-fold to more than 100 GW by 2030. Having already invested or committed investments worth $30 billion in projects in around 40 countries, the company expects to produce one million tonnes of green hydrogen (created through water electrolysis, using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar) annually by the end of the decade in an attempt to diversify its hydrocarbon-intensive economy. This is driving a paradigm shift in oil industries and oil-producing nations.
The UAE’s biggest oil exporter, ADNOC, has allocated $15 billion in decarbonisation projects, including carbon capture, electrification, new CO2 absorption technologies. The company has proposed to capture nearly half its operational emissions by 2030 as a start, and plans to reach net zero by 2045, five years earlier than most companies. It’s also already shifted 100% of its grid power to clean electricity from nuclear and solar.
In May 2022, Masdar, ADNOC and BP agreed to collaborate on a range of renewable energy projects, including UK’s green hydrogen project, HyGreen Teesside. Another long-term promise of green hydrogen is as a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). In October 2023, Masdar announced that it is teaming up with aerospace company Boeing to propel the SAF industry in the UAE and beyond. According to Deloitte, hydrogen will be outpacing Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) by 2030.
In early 2023 Masdar announced that it was entering the geothermal energy sector, with an investment in Indonesia’s Pertamina Geothermal Energy. Like hydrogen, geothermal heat derives its energy source from water, tapping reservoirs of hot water below the Earth’s surface. By contrast to solar and wind energy, its supply is constant.
In May 2023, Masdar’s affiliate Infinity Power signed a memorandum of understanding on renewable projects with Greece’s Copelouzos Group. Accordingly, the Green Energy Interconnector, a submarine power interconnection with a capacity of 3GW, will transmit green electrical energy from Egypt to Greece and further to Europe.
In preparation for COP28, Dubai adapted a Clean Energy Strategy, which aims at providing 75 percent of Dubai’s energy from clean sources by 2050. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority will add electric and hydrogen vehicles to its fleet of public transportation buses, school transport, taxis, and limousines. It will be also focusing on energy-efficient buildings, solar power generation and recycling waste. In addition, the Gulf state is planning to ban single-use plastic bags.
The UAE committed to sustainability initiatives, such as the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 and the UAE Centennial 2071, in order to achieve 50 percent clean energy for the country. 78 environmental initiatives, including on sustainable tourism, have been recently approved by the Emirati leadership. A pioneer in developing a national climate strategy and making a net-zero 2050 pledge among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, the UAE is also home to the world’s largest single-site solar energy project, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.
This year’s conference to be hosted at the EXPO City Dubai, which will be decorated with dried palm trees to highlight traditional and sustainable building techniques, is of great importance as it marks the midway through the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It will provide a unique opportunity for countries to evaluate their progress towards achieving their climate targets in the context of the first Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement’s implementation.
It also offers a moment for activists and oil executives alike to reset their thinking. By redirecting their focus and efforts, activists can put greater pressure on oil companies to take radical steps to decarbonise. At the recent ADIPEC oil and gas exhibition in Abu Dhabi, COP28 president Dr Sultan Al Jaber secured commitments from 20 oil and gas companies to ramp up decarbonisation.
If the entire global oil industry invested in capturing carbon at the sort of scale that ADNOC is targeting by 2030, the goal of slashing 22 gigatones of carbon emissions to stay within 1.5C which has been underscored by the Global Stocktake, might be achievable. This is not a zero sum game. Al Jaber has also called the oil and gas industry to get ready for a phase down of fossil fuels, while tripling renewable energy capacity. How does this square with ADNOC’s plans to expand oil and gas production this decade?
Al Jaber explained his rationale in a recent Guardian interview. He recognised that we will have less and less fossil fuels on global markets in coming decades, and pointed out that the IPCC recognises a role for some fossil fuels even by 2050 to meet growing energy demand. But he wants ADNOC to be the supplier of choice for this much smaller among of fossil fuels by making it the cleanest in the world. He also noted that ADNOC is expanding its capacity to produce, not its actual production, in case the world needs those extra barrels due to growing demand from developing nations especially. If it does, instead of getting dirtier oil from elsewhere, he wants ADNOC to be seen as the most environmentally-friendly form of oil. And if the world doesn’t need those extra barrels, the UAE won’t produce them.
In pushing for this great change of mindset in the oil industry, the COP28 presidency is setting a bold new global energy standard. Either the oil industry decarbonises rapidly, or it’s gets squeezed out of the market. At COP28, we have a unique chance to secure a global agreement that sets this standard in motion through new commitments from both governments and industry.
Now that’s a proposition that climate activists can get behind!
Isabel Schatzschneider is an environmental activist and commentator on EU environment policy. She is a Research Associate at the Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen-Nüremberg, and a former researcher at the Schweisfurth Foundation in Munich.
Image: By Leonhard Lenz – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64006570