Global Timetable for Fossil Fuel Phase-Out
By: Chandu Visweswariah
A timely solution to our climate crisis can only be achieved by a rapid global phase-out of fossil fuels. Therefore, we urgently need international agreement on a timetable. Mankind has historically dealt with dangerous poisons like leaded gasoline, freon, carcinogens like PCBs, asbestos, and now it is time to firmly and permanently close the spigot on fossil fuels.
Such an exercise would normally fall to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the agreement would be discussed and ratified at the Conference of the Parties (COP). The next COP meeting, COP28, is just around the corner from November 30 to December 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, so any climate-aware person would conclude that a fossil fuel phase-out timetable would be front and center at the summit.
Unfortunately, that will not be the case. In the last two COP meetings, even a firm commitment to “fossil fuel phase-out” was not permitted to be uttered in the official agreements due to fossil fuel interests once again hijacking our collective interests. This is why Greta Thunberg refused to attend COP27, calling it a “forum for greenwashing.”
So, will this be the year of the breakthrough? Well, the chair of COP28 will be His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), itself a fossil fuel company that pumps between 4 and 5 million barrels of oil per day and is a huge greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter! It is the prerogative of the host country to nominate the President of COP and the United Arab Emirates named HE Al-Jaber, flagrantly creating a massive conflict of interest.
This is like asking drug cartels to oversee crime legislation! Here’s the ugly truth: the fossil fuel industry has penetrated and subverted climate efforts to the extent of naming its own to chair the world’s foremost climate solutions conference. Sobering but true.
There are efforts underway to unseat HE Al-Jaber, but you can bet your last molecule of carbon that the fossil fuel industry and HE will have a firm grip over the proceedings and block any notion of fossil fuel phase-outs, let alone discussion of a timetable, let alone agreement on such a timetable.
Since COP28 will resist discussing the necessary and urgent fossil fuel phase-out, let’s at least discuss it here and lay out the framework for such a timetable so that our readers are prepared to take the next steps. Any timetable must meet certain requirements and guiding principles. It has to be technologically feasible. It must be fair. It must have enforcement teeth. And it must achieve net zero by 2040 if not sooner. These are non-negotiable tenets.
Bear with me as I lay it out. The timetable involves three levels of mapping or categorization:
- First, all fossil fuel uses are categorized as Easy, Medium or Hard to decarbonize.
- Next, all countries would be categorized as Early, On-Time or Late in their decarbonization schedule requirement.
- Finally, all 9 combinations of the above would be assigned a year to achieve 100% fossil fuel phase-out, as shown in the illustration below. For example, “Early” countries will have till 2032 to decarbonize “Medium” fossil fuel uses.
Another way to illustrate the same schedule is chronologically as shown below.
That’s the easy part. Now how do we assign fossil fuel uses to the three categories, and countries to the three schedules?
Where we have technology to displace fossil fuel use and that technology is mature and economical, such sectors are assigned to the Easy category for faster decarbonization. For example, light and medium duty vehicles are in the Easy category because we have the technology, and it is feasible to scale up quickly. Electricity generation, building HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) and cooking fall into the same category. The Medium category would include heavy duty land transportation such as trucks, smaller aircraft, smaller watercraft, and non-high-temperature industrial processes. The Hard category would include heavy-duty shipping, cement, steel, transcontinental air travel and other high-temperature industrial processes.
The set of guiding principles for assigning countries into the three schedules is also pretty straightforward. We consider four primary criteria: GDP per-capita, emissions per capita, cumulative historical emissions, and access to resources (like technology and mature industries) to decarbonize. A composite and quantitative score is developed based on these four criteria, with some suitable weighting scheme as desired. Countries are then rank-ordered by composite score and divided into three equal buckets. It stands to reason that countries with high scores bear more of the responsibility for emissions and have the resources to decarbonize, so they should go first. Other countries can learn from them and get some leeway in the form of additional time to phase out fossil fuels in that particular category of fossil fuel uses.
The beauty of this scheme is that high emissions countries are put on the spot to rapidly reduce carbon, thereby ensuring a rapid march towards net zero and limiting global warming to 1.5oC. In other words, the “earlier” tiles in the schedule contain most of the gigatons of today’s emissions.
Countries are free to pursue any combination of technologies to achieve these hard deadlines: gravity-based storage, new battery chemistries, multi-layer thin-film solar panels, ever-larger floating offshore wind turbines, green-hydrogen-fueled ships and ’planes, airships, sailboats, super-smart microgrids, and so on. Let the best technologies win! And in this transition, let’s find the best way to transition the valuable resources and skills of our fossil fuel infrastructure and labor force.
It is important to understand the compounding benefits of phasing out fossil fuels beyond decarbonization and climate stability. First, the fossil fuels that are used to mine, refine and transport fossil fuels will be saved! Second, particulate emissions will be significantly reduced with tremendous health benefits. Third, the amount of extraction of materials from the earth will be reduced even after taking into account mining for materials like lithium for electric vehicles (see our previous blog on this topic). Fourth, investment and resources will be diverted to clean technologies instead of being poured into the bottomless and greedy fossil fuel trough. And finally, Governments will finally be freed from providing staggering subsidies that exceed $10 million per minute to fossil fuel companies globally.
Here’s the bottom line: coming up with a sensible timetable to phase out fossil fuels is not so hard. Will COP28 rise to the occasion? Unfortunately, finding the political will to achieve agreement will be an extremely tough nut to crack because those whose living depends on fossil fuels have all the money and power to resist change.
So, here are calls to action:
- Watch Al Gore’s rousing TED talk about the fossil fuel industry.
- Join the March to End Fossil Fuels in New York City, September 17, 2023, at 1:00 p.m.
- Get familiar with Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and New York Environmental Bond Act (EBA) subsidies and grants to help you decarbonize your own life. Stay tuned to our CURE100 master calendar for webinars and events focused on IRA and EBA subsidies.
- Phase fossil fuels out of your own life by 2028, in keeping with the proposed timetable. Get in touch with us at cure100.org to find out how.
- Advocate for your relatives, friends, neighbors and colleagues to forgo fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
- Avoid single use plastics. Plastics are an insidious by-product of the fossil fuel industry. Do not throw away a straw, cup, food container or utensil after a single use. Micro- and macro-plastics are clogging our waterways, oceans and the gullets of avian and marine life. Here’s a tip: just as you keep grocery bags in your car, keep sporks, straws and food containers (in case you dine out and have leftovers to take home) at the ready.
- Protest HE Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber’s appointment as the head of COP28 and demand that COP28 develop a binding timetable to phase out fossil fuels.
- Help counter the massive and fraudulent messaging campaign put on by the fossil fuel industry. Let’s speak truth to power!