A day at the COP - D6

John Kerry visits the Ukrainian pavilion at COP28 in Dubai

The 28th Climate Conference opened on Thursday 30 November for twelve days in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) with a record number of nearly 80,000 participants. Every evening, "A Day at the COP" summarises the main news, announcements and reactions of the day. The newspaper also takes a look at the many players in the world. The theme of transport was on the agenda. And for one of the senior managers of Maersk, the world's second-largest ocean freight carrier, "consumption is an important part of the problem," he conceded to our microphone.

John Kerry makes an unannounced visit to the Ukrainian pavilion at COP28 in Dubai, Dec. 6, 2023. © Géraud Bosman-Delzons/RFI

By: Géraud Bosman-Delzons Follow


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At the COP, it's time for a mid-term review. In a first draft of a declaration – there could be several more before the end – all options are still on the table regarding the hot topic of this COP, fossil fuels, from unconditional exit to no mention in the text. This means that the negotiators will have a lot of work to do, and they will be joined by their ministers until 12 December. The head of the UN climate change is turning up the heat this afternoon. As the negotiations entered their second and final week of negotiations, Simon Stiell spoke at a press conference: "We have a starting text on the table, but it's a bag of wishes full of posturing," he said. "The Global Stocktake is the vehicle to get climate action on track [...] We need the COP to provide a high-speed train to accelerate climate action [...] We currently have an old caboose that drives on rickety tracks. For his part, the European Commissioner for Climate "wants this COP to mark the beginning of the end for fossil fuels," said the European Commissioner in charge of this file, which has just arrived in Dubai.

We are also reacting on the civil society side. "We're seeing a number of oil and gas producing countries, Saudi Arabia, Russia, expressing a strong reluctance to reach an agreement on this. It is not impossible to see an agreement next week, but we can expect tense negotiations," said Romain Ioualalen, a climate policy specialist at Oil Change International. No specific release date is mentioned in the options, one simply proposes that it would hover around the middle of the century. "It's a problem, because we know it has to be in 2050 last carat. The longer we wait to trigger a just and orderly transition from fossil fuels, the more difficult and costly this transition will be. The other problem is that there is no planned differentiation between countries. Vanuatu or Malawi cannot be asked to leave at the same speed as Canada or the United States.


Denmark is calling on the EU to reduce its emissions by 90% by 2040. "We are the first country to announce that the EU must reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 90% by 2040!" said Lars Aagaard, Danish Minister for Climate. "We hope that other countries will join us," he added. In April, the Twenty-Seven approved the decision to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by 55% compared to 1990 by 2030.


Kerry and Putin 1h30 apart

John Kerry wasn't there by chance. While Vladimir Putin had just landed in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a brief stopover before neighboring Saudi Arabia, Joe Biden's special envoy for climate improvised a visit to the Ukrainian pavilion at Expo City in Dubai, separated by less than 150 km. The symbolic gesture of support is obvious, even as the U.S. aid expected by Kiev is currently uncertain and must be put to a vote in Congress.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate made a brief tour of the Ukrainian pavilion on December 6, 2023. © Géraud Bosman-Delzons/RFI

The former U.S. vice president, who has been negotiating U.S. interests in the climate transition for a week, stopped for a few moments in front of the roof of a house imported from Ukraine and displayed inside the pavilion. Oleksii, the COP Ryabchyn negotiator who welcomed the American, explains this symbol: "This house had survived two world wars, but not Russian aggression. This year, we have a pavilion full of water that commemorates the gigantic man-made disaster of the Kakhovka Dam. It puts us on the same level as the floods in Pakistan, which are also the result of human activities. Climate change kills, Russia kills. Six months ago to the day, the building, located upstream of the Dnieper River, was gutted by an explosion. Ukraine and Russia blame each other for what can be described as a triple crime, a war, against humanity and against the environment. "This is my eighth COP and I can tell you how difficult it is to negotiate on climate when your wife and children are under bombs. You wonder what you're doing here. We are doing climate diplomacy and we are fighting for our children, our grandchildren and for Ukraine's environmental recovery," the Ukrainian negotiator concluded.


Morten Christiansen, Vice President for Energy Transition at Moller-Maersk.

"Consumption is an important part of the problem"

Like the air transport sector, international maritime freight transport is extremely polluting and does not escape the injunctions of transformation, even if, in proportion to the material transported, it is the most economical and "ecological" mode of trade. It accounts for 80% of the goods traded around the world. The amount of CO2 decreased by almost a third between 2008 and 2019 thanks to the modernization of fleets. Except that freight capacity has increased dramatically at the same time. After prosperous years due to Covid-19, Denmark's Maersk, the world's second-largest carrier, is suffering a boomerang effect like its competitors. We were given a brief interview by one of its senior officials.

The ocean freight industry is going through a period of economic turbulence. How do you plan to decarbonize your activities in this context?

The shipping industry is gearing up to meet this challenge. We are a big part of the problem. The sector accounts for almost 3% of global emissions and we clearly need to do something about it. Like aviation, it is not covered by the Paris Agreement because it is not the responsibility of a single country. But on the other hand, we are under the IMO, which is part of the UN. In any case, the main players are committed to taking action.

The solutions for maritime transport are first and foremost to make ships less consuming. But the main challenge is to move away from fossil fuels, either by using electricity or biomass. This is the most advanced technology. We can use biodiesel, but it is limited in volume, biomethane and methanol, and it is the latter route that we have chosen. In the future, we will most likely be able to sail on ammonia, which is actually the most adaptable fuel on a large scale, but this also raises safety and environmental questions because it is toxic.

How much would it cost Maersk?

Every year, our company burns ten million tons of fuel oil, and last year our fuel bill was eight billion dollars. But these technologies are all very expensive at the moment, you double or triple your fuel bill. We'd soon be in ruins! And for a very competitive industry, with very low margins, it's very difficult. That's why we need a regulatory framework that can encourage the use of green fuels. They are not available today, the structures still need to be built, which requires investment. And biomass is in high demand by other sectors, such as aviation, road transport and the chemical industry. The same goes for methanol.

We have ordered about 25 boats that run on bioethanol. A few weeks ago, we secured the first half a million tonnes of biomethane that can fill the tanks of more than twelve ships, so more than half of the fleet. We're making progress.

What position do you take on the exit from fossil fuels, which is at the heart of these negotiations?

If we talk about political negotiations, I stay out of it. But yes, there are alternatives to fossil fuels. To say that there won't be enough green fuels, I don't agree with that. If there is demand, there will be projects. So it's an excuse to do nothing at all.

But we come here as an industrial player and the objective is to have a regulatory framework under the authority of the International Maritime Organization (1). And it can also be an inspiration for other sectors where reducing emissions is more difficult to achieve.

Are you in favour of an international tax on the maritime sector?

Yes, it simply would not be a tax because only countries can levy taxes. We believe that the most economical and effective way would be to have a 10% fossil fuel levy by 2030 and to use part of it to subsidize green fuels. Because even with relatively low fees, you can create a level playing field. And the higher the share of green fuels, the higher the levy. So the priority is to have this regulatory framework that can put in place both an obligation of 10% green fuel by 2030 and a levy on fossil fuels that can finance ecological fuels.

Your business model is based on consumption. The more goods you transport, the more profit you make. But a sustainable planet will require less consumption and more sobriety, as the IPCC experts also say. Are you calling for less consumption as a sustainable solution?

It's hard for us as an industry to say what people should be consuming. Shippers are our customers, we serve our customers. On the concept of consumption in general, I can have an opinion as a private person but...

What exactly is it?

We won't solve this problem if we don't activate all the levers that exist. So yes, I think it's fair to also look at how we consume and why in Europe everyone feels the need to have five TVs and two cars. This is obviously part of the solution. But we have to look at this problem from all sides, and clearly, consumption is an important part of it.

1.Au the first day of the COP, five of the world's largest shipping companies as well as France, South Korea and Denmark adopted a joint declaration to promote the adoption of "a robust regulatory framework" by 2027 that supports the sector's green transition.

They promise to reduce their total fleet emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2008, compared to 20% required by the IMO. A net-zero reduction in emissions must be achieved "by 2050 at the latest". The coalition also advocates for the implementation of "construction standards for new ships." Carriers are considering agreeing on a date beyond which it would be mandatory for all new ships to be powered by zero- or near-zero-emission fuel. Currently, nearly 99% of the world's fleet is powered by heavy fuel oil.

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