COP28: Qatari and US LNG Uptick To Throw Climate Goals Into Chaos


COP28: Qatari and US LNG Uptick To Throw Climate Goals Into Chaos

COP28 Dubai could be jeopardised by massive new LNG investment by Qatar and the US as the world attempts to move away from fossil fuels.

09 July 2023 – by Tim Daiss   Comments (0)

The stakes of the global energy sector and fossil fuel industry are heating up again. At the centre of the conundrum lie Qatar and the US – two of the world’s largest LNG producers and exporters. Their massive development is intersecting the upcoming COP28 meeting in Expo City Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from November 30 to December 12 2023.

COP28 2023 President Sultan al Jaber said in May that he would press for the world’s first global stocktake, which itemises what countries and stakeholders are doing and whether they are meeting their 2015 Paris Agreement commitments.

It’s like performing an inventory check on countries’ climate actions or lack of action, identifying the gaps and, most importantly, finding solutions to accelerate inclusive climate progress.

COP28 in Expo City Dubai, UAE

Part of the international climate negotiations COP28 Dubai agenda will include delivering an action plan involving the private and public sectors and furthering the global climate agenda. It also includes countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs.) A country’s NDC is a non-binding national plan highlighting climate change mitigation, including climate-related targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, problems facing this year’s meeting will likely be similar to the COP27 summit last year held in Egypt. Simply put, many countries are unwilling to strengthen NDCs.

The COP28 summit should also put Qatari and US LNG development in the global climate change mitigation crosshairs and show the world how dangerous it is for the planet.

A Climate Crisis in the Making

Qatar, for its part, along with a list of Western oil and gas majors, is spending some USD30 billion to further develop its prolific North Field East gas field. It will be the LNG industry’s largest project.

To date, US oil behemoths ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, Italian energy giant Eni, and France’s Total Energies (TTE) have invested in the project.

In April, Chinese state-owned energy giant Sinopec won an equity stake, becoming the first Asian stakeholder. This came after it signed a 27-year sales and purchase agreement with Qatar, the longest term in the industry.

The North Field East mega-project will become operational by 2027. This will morph the gas-rich emirate’s liquefaction capacity (the amount of LNG produced annually) from 77 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) to 110 mtpa.

This comes with associated emissions across the entire gas value chain, including gas flaring and forced boil-off from transporting LNG cargoes by ocean tankers across vast distances. Boil-off creates sulphur dioxide and other pollutants. Emissions from the power sector are also included in the value chain.

World’s Highest Per Capita Emissions

Qatar already has the highest per capita CO2 emissions worldwide at 35.6 metric tonnes per person. Its North Field East expansion will only exacerbate those numbers.

A new report by BankTrack, an NGO, says the new project will account for 70% of the country’s emissions growth. It also found that it will cause USD 20 trillion in damages and 11 million premature deaths globally.

Qatar’s False NDC Narrative

State-run Qatar Petroleum (QP) recently signed the country’s first NDC. It includes a pledge to stop gas flaring by 2030. In addition, the company has signed the Methane Guiding Principles and is committed to reducing methane emissions across the natural gas value chain.

QP claims it has deployed leak, detection and repair programs (LDAR) in its upstream and downstream oil and gas facilities. It also plans to integrate a fugitive methane monitoring and repair program across all assets.

However, the country’s plans do not address its massive greenhouse gas emissions.

The US LNG Quandary

On the other side of the planet, the US could see its LNG development surpass that of even Qatar. The country’s LNG development has seen it ascend to the third slot regarding liquefaction capacity, just behind Australia and Qatar. The US exported its first LNG cargo only seven years ago.

In 2022, US-based LNG exports spiked by 8% to 10.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd), slightly behind top LNG exporter Australia’s 10.7 bcfd. The US also remained ahead of Qatar, which – in third place – shipped 10.5 bcfd.

The future for US LNG development is eye-opening. It will put in invest some USD 100 billion in new LNG projects for the next five years.

Ongoing LNG development also contradicts the country’s NDC goals, even as President Biden sets more ambitious climate change mitigation targets.

The country’s 2030 domestic NDC is consistent with 2°C of warming compared to modelled domestic emissions pathways but not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit.

US policies should lead to falling emissions pathways by 2030 but would still result in an emissions level above its targets, a Climate Action Tracker report confirms.

Moreover, reports reveal that building or expanding the proposed 25 LNG terminals in the US could produce more than 90 million metric tonnes of GHG emissions per year.

While it is unlikely that every proposed project in the US will get built, it’s still a systemic risk. In 2021, GHG emissions from US LNG export facilities were as high as 18 million metric tonnes. The estimates did not include upstream or downstream emissions, so they do not reflect the entire gas value chain.

No New LNG Developments and the Next Steps

The Qatari and US LNG build-out will make it impossible for both countries to accelerate emissions reductions. It also fails in the face of International Energy Agency (IEA) warnings saying that “no” new fossil fuel infrastructure should be built if the world is to avoid breaching the 1.5°C limit. That limit would avoid the most severe effects of global climate change.

The global LNG sector can learn a lesson from renewables development. Since wind and solar power deployment have grown rapidly, clean energy is set to overtake coal as an energy source globally by 2025. The LNG sector has to follow a similar trajectory, stop new LNG development, invest in wind and solar and set a time frame for an LNG phaseout.

by Tim Daiss

Tim has been working in energy markets in the Asia-Pacific region for more than ten years. He was trained as an LNG and oil markets analyst and writer then switched to working in sustainable energy, including solar and wind power project financing and due diligence. He’s performed regulatory, geopolitical and market due diligence for energy projects in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. He’s also worked as a consultant/advisor for US, UK and Singapore-based energy consultancies including Wood Mackenzie, Enerdata, S&P Global, KBR, Critical Resource, and others. He is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for US-based lithium-sulfur EV battery start-up Bemp Research Corp.

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