The years of the big oil and gas companies are numbered if they do not fundamentally change their business model. Corporations should use half of their investments to build solar and wind farms by 2030 and finally stop pinning their hopes on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. In short: "The moment of truth for the oil and gas industry will come soon!"

This is not proclaimed by climate activist Luisa Neubauer, but by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its new special report one week before the start of the 28th UN Climate Change Conference (COP28). The Paris-based agency is the world's most important institution when it comes to analysing the state of global energy markets. Among other things, it publishes the well-known "World Energy Outlook". It was founded in 1974 by Western countries to deal with the oil crisis that shook economies at the time and caused a wave of inflation.

Almost 50 years later, the world is sliding into the climate crisis. Today, it is not a question of saving the oil markets, but of replacing them with other energy sources as quickly as possible. Almost everyone seems to have understood this by now, except the oil and gas companies themselves. According to the IEA report, only one percent of global investment in renewables comes from oil and gas companies.

IEA: Preventing greenwashing

According to the IEA, the consumption of oil and gas must fall by more than 2050 percent by 75 to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The report also warns against kicking off even more natural gas projects; States should also think carefully about whether they support new liquefied natural gas infrastructures, for example. "Those who continue to invest in new gas projects risk throwing their money out the window," Fatih Birol, head of the agency, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. They cannot, on the one hand, want to achieve the Paris climate goals and at the same time continue to use fossil fuels. That doesn't work. That's impossible. That's the truth, that's mathematics." Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), who will also be in Dubai, had campaigned months ago for gas projects in African countries.

The IEA report is strong stuff for the industry, which actually wants to present itself as part of the solution at the UN climate summit in Dubai. After all, the president of this year's conference is himself head of the oil giant Adnoc and wants to involve an "inclusive COP", i.e. the companies. There is a high danger that the corporations with their powerful PR departments will pretend to be much greener, i.e. they actually are. So, the IEA's clarification helps prevent greenwashing.

Such greenwashing would also contradict the idea of the conference, which is intended to put a binding end to the current business with fossil raw materials. For this reason, a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels is to be enshrined in the COP final declaration. This is what the EU, which is also negotiating on behalf of Germany at the COP, wants.

CCS: According to the IEA, "no way to maintain the status quo"

Another central role in Dubai will be played by a technology that is still in its infancy and is a beacon of hope for all fans of fossil fuels: Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS for short. A technology designed to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere and store it (underground). The oil and gas companies see this as an opportunity to continue producing unhindered.

It could become the bone of contention of the summit. According to the EU's position, the role of CCS technology in the final declaration should be limited – and if possible only applied to emissions that would otherwise be difficult to reduce, such as from cement plants. Some states will certainly try to delete the passage completely in the coming weeks, others will try to make the role of CCS stronger.

The IEA is already building up the wrangling with facts: CCS is "not a way to maintain the status quo," the energy experts write. If oil and natural gas consumption were to continue at this rate, the technology would have to avoid "an unimaginable 2050 billion tons of CO₂" by 32 – 23 billion tons of which would be achieved through direct air capture (DAC) and subsequent storage. This would require electricity generation of 26,000 terawatt hours, more than the global electricity demand in 2022.

Since the large corporations usually calculate everything exactly, it is astonishing how irrationally they speculate on an extremely energy-intensive and expensive technology. In view of the IEA figures, however, the suspicion is that CCS is more of an excuse than a real alternative to renewable energies.

SPIEGEL observes the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai with several correspondents from November 30 to December 12. In addition to my colleagues Jonas Schaible and Gerald Traufetter, I will be on site for the entire two weeks – and report for you until the bitter end. This year, too, all COP observers assume that the final negotiations will be tough – and that the timetable will not be adhered to.

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Stay confident,

Yours sincerely, Susanne Götze
Science Editor