By Sonali Kolhatkar
In January 2023, nearly a year before the latest United Nations climate conference began, there was deep concern and alarm over the head of one of the world’s largest oil companies being appointed president of the COP28 summit. The climate talks taking place in December 2023 were hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and overseen by Sultan Al Jaber, a man who happens to be in charge of the UAE’s national oil company Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. It’s a fitting illustration of an old idiom that the fox is in charge of the hen house.
Al Jaber’s appointment was such a clear conflict of interest that a group of United States lawmakers, including House Representatives Barbara Lee, Rashida Tlaib, and Jamaal Bowman, and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, sent a scathing letter on January 26th denouncing it. “Having a fossil fuel champion in charge of the world’s most important climate negotiations would be like having the CEO of a cigarette conglomerate in charge of global tobacco policy,” wrote the lawmakers.
Their warning fell on deaf ears and yet their fears proved to be correct months later when The Guardian newspaper published Al Jaber’s revealing remarks made at a November 2023 online climate meeting. Climate justice leader and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, rightly pointed out that the climate crisis was hurting women and children, and that Al Jaber had the power to do something about it. The oil company head angrily retorted that her comments were “alarmist,” and asserted that, “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.”
He went on to say, “Show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.” Sounding defensive and cornered, Al Jaber added, “Show me the solutions. Stop the pointing of fingers. Stop it.”
Adding (fossil) fuel to the fire, the BBC published an exposé days before COP28 began revealing that “The United Arab Emirates planned to use its role as the host of UN climate talks as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals.” UAE authorities did not deny the reports and instead responded with shocking hubris that “private meetings are private.”
Such shenanigans reveal the futility of relying on the UN’s annual COP meetings to phase out fossil fuels in order to stave off catastrophic climate change. Whereas earlier COP meetings fixated on the goal of “net zero emissions”—a phrase that climate activists rightly denounced as greenwashing and propaganda—the favorite phrase at this year’s COP28 appeared to be a “phase down” of fossil fuels.
The idea is that oil and gas producers may consider, someday in the far future, to start producing fewer fossil fuels than they do now. “Phase down” is a clever dilution of “phase out.” It is a sleight of hand intended to assuage concern over the warming climate all while remaining on a path to climate destruction.
The first draft of the COP28 agreement spelled out the two terms as interchangeable, referring to a “phasedown/out.” Al Jaber reflected this equation of two different words even as he sought to maintain his credentials as head of COP28, saying that he has maintained “over and over that the phase-down and the phase-out of fossil fuel is inevitable.”
That Al Jaber would engage in trickery to protect fossil fuels is hardly surprising given his role as head of the Abu-Dhabi-based oil firm. In his leaked remarks to Robinson, he proclaimed that phasing out oil and gas was not feasible, “unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
But it is precisely the continued use of fossil fuels that may take us back to the stone age. We may all be living in caves someday, seeking high ground from the rising waters of the warming oceans, all while Al Jaber and his ilk are ensconced in the luxury bunkers of the wealthy.
It is an image that reflects the reality of Dubai, a gleaming, futuristic city where the Emirates pays lip service to climate progress as host of COP28, while simultaneously conspiring to secure oil and gas deals on the side. It’s a city that is defined by yet another idiom: trying to have your cake and eat it too.
I know, because I was born and raised in Dubai, a child of Indians who emigrated in 1970 to a land known as the Trucial Sheikhdoms—one year before they formally emerged as a single sovereign nation called the United Arab Emirates. My parents’ tenure in the UAE was older than the nation itself and while they toiled for more than 50 years as part of an immigrant workforce that outnumbers Emiratis 9 to 1, they were never afforded citizenship, as were none of their three children born there.
The Emirates, with the blessing of its former colonial master Britain, and its newer imperial partners, the U.S. and Israel, has presided over an oil-funded project fueled by exploited immigrant labor to emerge as one of the most important trading hubs in the world: a seductive tourist trap dotted by massive shopping malls and billboards beneath which teeming labor camps invisibly keep the wheels of capitalism turning. It touts a liberalism that allows women to work, drive, and even hold limited leadership, all while suppressing the rights of low-wage female domestic workers. It pledges sustainability while marketing itself to global investors.
It is hypocrisy manifested; a pretty façade of a promising future built on an age-old model of serfdom, a nation that celebrates the freedom to consume, but clamps down on the freedom to speak. In other words, it is a capitalist’s wet dream. What better place for fossil fuel promoters to pretend they care about the future of the planet?
The COP meetings have been a disastrous distraction from the urgent need to end fossil fuel production and consumption. Even Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who is considered the architect of the 2015 Paris climate accord, is so disgusted by the state of proceedings that she called the COP “a circus.”
Having Dubai host the largest annual international climate gathering is a desperate bid by a dying industry to maintain relevance. Energy forecasting predictions point to a grim future for petrostates like the UAE. It’s no wonder Al Jaber has publicly tied himself into knots of contradictions. His nation’s future depends on the continued flow of oil and gas, while our world’s future depends on an immediate termination of the poisonous fuels.
Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her most recent book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelley, under the tent, addresses nearly 100 citizens sheltering from a cold rain under overlapping umbrellas. They came together on Sunday, December 3rd to show support for Mamadou Dembele, and attest to the burden of persistent racism. Judging from Ian Lenahan’s account in the Portsmouth Herald, it appears that Dembele, a Vice President at Bangor Savings Bank, who is Black, was accosted by a small mob near Gilley’s Diner on Fleet Street on the night before Thanksgiving. He was then attacked and injured by a lone individual. His suspected assailant, a stranger to Dembele, is white. He is also a former employee of the Portsmouth Police Department. To avoid a conflict of interest, the criminal investigation is being handled by the State Police. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit is also investigating.
Voters Say Big Oil Should Pay for Climate Damage
by Brett Wilkins
As yet another United Nations Climate Change Conference winds down without a meaningful agreement on phasing out fossil fuels, polling released Tuesday by Data for Progress revealed strong bipartisan support among U.S. voters for legislation forcing oil and gas companies to pay for their role in fueling the planetary emergency.
The survey of 1,279 U.S. voters, conducted November 3-6, found that around two-thirds of all likely voters support such legislation, a +40-point net margin. Among Democrats, support for the proposed bill is 88 percent, while 61 percent of Independent and 46 percent of Republicans either strongly or somewhat back the proposal.
Asked if they were more or less likely to support elected officials who prioritize making Big Oil pay for its climate pollution, 64 percent of overall respondents, 89 percent of Democrats, and 58 percent of Independents answered “more likely.” Republicans were the only group whose members were less likely to back officials who would make oil and gas companies pay for their pollution.
“In a resounding call for accountability, two-thirds of the American people support legislation demanding industry titans like Exxon and Shell shoulder their fair share of the climate damages inflicted by fossil fuels,” Fossil Free Media communications director Cassidy DiPaola said in a statement.
“With COP spotlighting the towering price tag of climate change, voters resoundingly endorse fossil fuel companies contributing their fair share to address a crisis they helped manufacture and still refuse to help fix,” she added, referencing the U.N. summit.
The poll follows the September launch of the “Make Polluters Pay” campaign, a public relations blitz meant to drum up public support for suing fossil fuel corporations—which knew that their products caused climate change decades before publicly saying so.
That month, California joined dozens of states and municipalities that have targeted fossil fuel giants in court,suing five fossil fuel giants—ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron—over their decadeslong effort to deceive the public about their products’ role in fueling global heating.
The new survey’s findings also came as so-called “loss and damage”—the harm caused by anthropogenic climate change—features prominently at COP28. However, climate campaigners were once again disappointed as the United States and other top polluters failed to make meaningful contributions to the fund.
The rich nations most responsible for the climate catastrophe pledged just $700 million among them, the equivalent of under 0.2 percent of the irreversible losses Global South countries suffer each year during the worsening planetary crisis. The United States pledged a paltry $17.5 million.
“Every year, we travel across oceans to come to these negotiations and we continue to get only drops of ambition,” Drue Slatter, a Fijian climate campaigner attending COP28, wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday by Common Dreams.
“Facing the catastrophic effects of extreme weather at home and watching the slow progress of the negotiations, it was hard not to be pessimistic before we even arrived at COP28,” Slatter added. “But the point is that we can’t afford not to be here, we can’t afford to stop fighting because what’s at stake is our very survival.”
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
GOP Backs Boebert’s Plan: Make Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Big Oil
by Jessica Corbett
Fossil fuel industry-funded Republicans on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted Wednesday to advance Rep. Lauren Boebert’s bill that would saddle taxpayers with the massive cost of cleaning up oil and gas wells on federal lands.
“Corporations awarded a lease to drill on federal land must post a bond. If the leasing corporation abandons an exploration site, goes bankrupt, or fails to plug a well securely, the posted bond covers the cost of doing so,” Public Citizen explained this week in a statement opposing the proposal.
The Colorado Republican’s Restoring American Energy Dominance Act (H.R. 6009) would block a proposed rule from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) revising federal regulations “to update the fees, rents, royalties, and bonding requirements related to oil and gas leasing, development, and production” in line with the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Joe Biden last year.
Based on a BLM review of the costs to plug orphaned wells, the rule—strongly opposed by polluting oil and gas companies—would raise the minimum lease bond amount to $150,000 and the minimum statewide bond to $500,000. It would also end the use of nationwide bonds.
“Without these crucial protections, the oil and gas industry could stick taxpayers with a massive bill of between $2.9 billion and $17.7 billion,” Public Citizen’s Alan Zibel warned in a report published Tuesday in anticipation of the House committee vote.
“We already allow far too much climate-destroying fossil fuel drilling on public lands in Western states,” Zibel added in a statement Wednesday. “The least we can do is ensure taxpayers don’t get stuck subsidizing the fossil fuel industry’s cost of doing business.”
“Even as U.S. fossil fuel production soars to record levels,” he said, “Republicans are doing the bidding of fossil fuel lobbyists by trying to block modest, sensible efforts to reduce blatant, long-standing giveaways in the system for leasing public lands for oil and gas production.”
In the leadup to the vote, Accountable.US highlighted that the “Big Oil-backed, far-right extremists” on the Republican-led committee have taken at least $3.8 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry during their political careers.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) leads the pack with $850,945, followed by committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) at $416,575, based on the group’s analysis of OpenSecrets data. Boebert, who is only in her second term, ranks sixth, with $121,150.
“Rep. Boebert is plainly on the side of the oil and gas companies that don’t want to be held accountable for exploiting hardworking taxpayers,” Accountable.US spokesperson Chris Marshall said Wednesday. “The American public can’t afford to suffer from this broken, polluting system any longer.”
Thanks to the panel’s party-line vote, H.R. 6009 now moves to the House floor. It faces far better odds of passing the GOP-controlled lower chamber than the divided Senate—but even if the bill got through Congress, Biden could veto it.
While Biden—who is seeking reelection next year—campaigned on being a “climate president,” he has come under fire from campaigners and frontline communities for continuing fossil fuel lease sales for public lands and waters, greenlighting the Willow oil project and Mountain Valley Pipeline, and blowing off COP28, the ongoing United Nations climate summit taking place in Dubai.
Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
It may have been superfluous, arriving as it did amid the usual rigamarole, but the car shown here, which parked in Market Square on the afternoon of Saturday, December 9th, certainly must have dispelled any lingering uncertainties as to the season. Its highly appropriate red paint is nearly obscured by garlands of tinsel, silver bells, a nativity scene, a lantern, a sled, a wreath, a toy train on tracks, a snow globe, several snowmen, large and small, a number of nutcrackers in uniform, penguins, wrapped presents, and various Christmas lights and ornaments. Also on hand: Mickie and Minnie Mouse, Snoopy, and, splayed out on the hood as if he’s been hit from behind while jaywalking, Jack Skellington in a Santa Claus costume.
‘Disastrous’: U.S. Vetoes Cease-Fire Resolution at UN Security Council
by Julia Conley
As the United Nations humanitarian chief warned that aid workers in Gaza are “hanging on by our fingertips” as they try to mitigate an “untenable” disaster, and with Americans’ support for Israel’s U.S-backed bombardment of the enclave eroding, the United States on Friday vetoed a resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire at the U.N. Security Council.
U.S. Envoy to the U.N. Robert Wood told members of the council that a cease-fire would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
Thirteen member-countries voted in favor of the cease-fire resolution, which was introduced after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres took the rare step of invoking Article 99 of the U.N. Charter, warning that Israel’s slaughter of at least 17,487 Palestinians in just two months “may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
The U.K. abstained from voting on the resolution, saying it did not take into account that Hamas committed acts of terrorism when it attacked Israel on October 7.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, called the veto “disastrous.”
“The Security Council was again prevented from rising to this moment to uphold its clear responsibilities in the face of this grave crisis threatening human lives and threatening regional and international peace and security,” said Mansour. “Instead of allowing this council to uphold its mandate by finally making a clear call after two months of massacres that the atrocities must end, the war criminals are given more time to perpetuate them. How can this be justified?”
Nicolas de Rivière, France’s permanent representative to the Security Council, who voted in favor of the cease-fire, argued that there is no “contradiction in the fight against terrorism and the protection of civilians, in strict respect of international humanitarian law.”
“Unfortunately once again, this council has failed. With a lack of unity and by refusing to genuinely commit to negotiations in doing this, the crisis in Gaza is getting worse and it runs the risk of extending,” said de Rivière.
The U.S. has now vetoed U.N. resolutions to hold Israel accountable for its policies in Palestine 45 times, human rights lawyer Noura Erakat said.
Former U.N. human rights official Craig Mokhiber—who resigned in October over the U.N.’s response to the war in Gaza—noted that U.S. blocked the resolution on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the U.N. Genocide Convention.
“Thousands have died since [the United States’] last veto and more will die now,” said Mokhiber.
Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Voters Want Gaza Ceasefire, Diplomacy
New Data for Progress polling found that a majority of U.S. likely voters support a permanent ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza—and most prefer that the U.S. prioritize diplomacy and humanitarian aid to curtail violence in the region.
Sixty-one percent of likely voters, including a majority of Democrats (76 percent) and Independents (57 percent) and a plurality of Republicans (49 percent), support the U.S. calling for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza.
Asked about additional courses of action, more than 2 in 3 voters across party lines support the U.S. “providing intelligence and resources to assist efforts to find and rescue Israeli hostages in Gaza” and “sending food, water, and medical supplies to people in Gaza.”