Last month saw an historic, albeit altogether insufficient, step forward to avoid climate catastrophe.
At the annual global UN-backed climate change conference in Dubai, known as COP28, countries for the first time unanimously acknowledged the necessity of “transitioning away from fossil fuels”: coal, oil, and gas. While short of an endorsement of a full fossil fuel phaseout—what scientists tell us is needed to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis—it is a milestone, decades in the making.
Yet even this tepid sign of progress faced pushback from fossil fuel executives and the politicians who do their bidding.
The story of COP28 is one of the power and perniciousness of the fossil fuel industry. The CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ oil company (the 12th largest in the world) served as conference chair, and industry lobbyists outnumbered delegates from nearly every country. The final text is full of industry-friendly loopholes, giving fossil fuel corporations leeway to continue to profit off dirty energy.
Trying to address the climate crisis while expanding drilling, mining, and fracking operations is like offering chemotherapy to a lung cancer patient while handing them pack after pack of Marlboro Reds.
It’s clear we are at the end of the fossil fuel era. Solar and wind energy are the cheapest forms of energy to build.
Like tobacco companies before them, fossil fuel corporations have known for years (with shocking accuracy) about the science: their products, when used as directed, would harm the health of the planet and cause widespread devastation. But the industry has time and again blocked significant action or sought to delay it through false promises. They did so again at COP28.
As the future is at stake, it falls to the rest of us to take urgent action. Indeed, civil society institutions are not waiting. Last week marked a major achievement: 1600 institutions across the world representing more than $40 trillion (with a “T”) have now pledged to move money away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy.