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Big Oil executives spark controversy after calling efforts to phase out dirty energy a 'fantasy' — can the world stay on track?

While oil interests agreed to deep pollution cuts, the deal wasn't legally binding, making it difficult to hold them accountable.

While oil interests agreed to deep pollution cuts, the deal wasn't legally binding, making it difficult to hold them accountable.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Despite agreeing to phase out polluting fuels at a recent global climate summit, oil executives are now backtracking on that promise, calling it a "fantasy" to transition to cleaner energy sources.

What's happening?

At the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, nearly 200 countries reached a historic agreement to accelerate the move away from oil and gas so the world could achieve its critical pollution-reduction goals by 2050, per Reuters and the World Economic Forum

"We are moving away from fossil fuels — and we are not turning back," then-top U.S. climate negotiator John F. Kerry said at the conference, as reported by the Washington Post.

As the WEF noted, COP28 was the first UN climate change conference at which representatives officially admitted that dirty fuels are the main culprits behind the planet's dangerous overheating. 

While oil interests agreed to deep pollution cuts, the deal wasn't legally binding, making it difficult to hold them accountable, the Post detailed.

At an energy conference in Houston earlier this year, oil and gas companies seemed to forget about the agreement entirely, citing soaring demand as proof their products are still necessary.

"We should abandon the fantasy of phasing out oil and gas," Amin Nasser, CEO and president of the world's largest oil producer, Saudi Aramco, said at the Houston meeting, per the Post

Why is it concerning that Big Oil isn't reducing production?

Climate experts agree that we need to limit rising global temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of the warming planet. 

However, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that for this to be achieved, the release of polluting gases must peak before 2025, which isn't likely to happen in part because the United States is pumping record amounts of oil. 

According to the Post, citing the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. averaged 12.9 million barrels of crude oil production per day in 2023, beating a prior record set in 2019. Meanwhile, Nasser predicted that worldwide demand for oil would skyrocket to 104 million barrels per day this year, even though clean energy such as solar and wind are making up a larger part of the energy mix. 

While it's unrealistic to stop using oil and gas overnight, the longer society relies on these polluting fuels, the more it puts communities at risk of facing extreme weather, disease outbreaks, and other hazards of a hotter planet. 

What's being done about this?

Despite the alarming news, the International Energy Agency estimates that demand for oil and gas will peak by 2030 as electric vehicles, solar, and wind power start to dominate the energy landscape, per the New York Times

"The agreement to transition away from fossil fuels in Dubai is as strong as ever," John Podesta, President Biden's senior adviser for climate policy, said, as quoted by the Post. "The trajectory is clear. The question is speed and scale."

With solar, wind, geothermal, and wave energy experiencing explosive growth, it's clear there's no stopping the clean energy transition. 

We can also support the switch to non-polluting power sources by electrifying our homes and cars and educating ourselves about greenwashing to ensure our hard-earned money is going to eco-friendly brands.

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