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COP28 Deal Lacks the Teeth Required to Change Realities on the Ground. Here’s Why.

December 19, 2023
Dubai, Saudi Arabia

By Joshua Trott, Chief Revenue Officer 

Before it even started, COP28 drew sharp condemnation from activists and left-leaning politicians who took issue with the climate conference's location: the United Arab Emirates, a leading Oil & Gas-producing nation. 

“Time to say ‘the F-words’?” CNBC asked in one headline, referring of course to “fossil fuel.” A group of US and EU lawmakers called for the removal of COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, head of the UAE’s national oil company Adnoc. And former Vice President Al Gore slammed the host nation and the summit itself, saying it was “abusing the public’s trust” because al-Jaber couldn’t be an honest broker of a climate deal. 

I get it. The optics were certain to raise eyebrows and provide low-hanging fruit for critics. But the extent to which the conference became a global flash point was surprising even to the most cynical of onlookers. Finger-pointing took center stage, relegating rational discussion to the shadows. Misinformation and distrust flourished as a tired old energy transition narrative took hold — one that pits villain Oil & Gas against hero Renewables in an epic fight to save the planet. 

"In nearly all cases, the room was too divided to put measurable targets on the board that are enforceable."

At Workrise we follow data, not ideology. We know that success in the energy transition is an all-of-the-above proposition. And in this regard, COP28 made progress. Reading the text of the agreement it’s clear that the delegation has adopted the view that the dominant suppliers of energy to the world — Oil & Gas companies — must be a part of the solution going forward, and accepted the reality that fuel sources like nuclear and natural gas must be leveraged if we are to reach our 2050 targets.

But what also becomes clear when reading the agreement is that in nearly all cases, the room was too divided to put measurable targets on the board that are enforceable. Nearly every “commitment” comes with words that provide loopholes and outs. 

So what we have is a “deal” that stops short of the kind of black-and-white commitments that create accountability — a deal with language folks can live with, but that won’t meaningfully change realities on the ground.

Which begs the question: Why is that, and why can’t we do more?

Two words: dogma and hostility. They are the root cause of the polarization that gripped the conference and steers the wider conversation about the energy transition worldwide. With those powerful forces holding sway, we will never get to agreements that have the teeth required to move the needle on this global challenge. 

At the end of the day, it was impressive to see Al Jaber emerge from the summit with a deal of any kind, despite the fire storm that he fueled with his comments earlier in the conference.

What the world needs is leaders who are willing to put aside ideology, rely on proven facts, and grab every opportunity they have to move the chains. Just as important, those leaders need to understand the sensitivity of this topic — and how easily it becomes cannon fodder for those who seek to weaponize it. Without the right leadership, how can we hope for the general public to engage meaningfully in this debate, and to understand what their vote — whether they cast it with their wallet or at the ballot box — truly means?

So long as both sides of this debate dig in and throw stones at each other, the journey to net zero will continue to get longer and more arduous. 

Joshua Trott has spent his career serving the energy industry, including at Workrise where as Chief Revenue Officer (and previously as Head of Oil & Gas) he has helped to grow the company’s industry-leading labor business and shepherd its evolution into a leading supply chain solution for many of the biggest energy companies in the world. A lifelong soccer player and fan, he lives in Austin, Texas.

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