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Hot Air

At the U.N. Climate Talks, the U.S. Is Just Another Petrostate

As the COP28 summit opens, American oil and gas production has never been higher.

John Kerry holds a microphone and speaks.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, speaks with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff during the APEC CEO Summit on November 16, in California.

The United States is the world’s top producer of both oil and gas. That’s a fact you might forget, listening to the U.S. diplomats attending this year’s U.N. climate talks. During a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry chided “major producers” for not having signed onto a G7 pledge “to accelerate the phaseout of unabated fossil fuels so as to achieve net zero in energy systems by 2050.”

“We still have people who have not signed up to that,” he said. “They are, some of them, among the major producers of fossil fuel, and they need to immediately step up and be part of the solution, not the most significant part of the problem.”

Yet the U.S. continues to be a “significant part of the problem” Kerry referenced. The country is now producing more crude oil than at any point in its history, having doubled production from just a decade ago. A report published this week by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that 17 major fossil fuel projects approved by the Biden administration are projected to create more emissions in 2030 than will be eliminated by White House climate policies, including the Inflation Reduction Act. The U.S. accounts for more than a third of all planned oil and gas expansion through the end of this decade—more than any other country on earth. As talks continue, it’ll auction off 44,000 acres of land across the West for oil and gas drilling.

The U.S. has no plan to proactively phase out so-called “unabated” fossil fuel production, despite the pledge it’s made to that effect. There are also no assurances that emissions from ever-expanding fossil fuel production can in fact be abated—a term that refers to capturing and storing carbon emissions—at any meaningful scale.

Kerry, meanwhile, said during the same presser that the U.S. will be “refocusing effort and energy on the 1.5 degrees [Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit], which is the critical guidepost for all of us here.” Kerry has a somewhat fantastical view on how to achieve this goal in a world where nations are on track to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels that is consistent with this limit: Oil and gas executives, according to Kerry, will take “public responsibility” for their emissions and come to the climate negotiating table in good faith, all the while investing unprecedented amounts of money into renewables and low-carbon ventures like carbon capture and storage. Over time, then, government incentives for things like electric vehicles will both “reduce demand for gasoline” and spur further investments in low-carbon technologies, he told the Financial Times earlier this month.

As the COP28 climate summit kicks off in Dubai today, all eyes will be on major producers like its host. An investigation released Monday by the Center for Climate Reporting and the BBC found that COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber has been using meetings with national delegations about the climate talks to advance business interests for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the state-owned oil producer where he serves as CEO. “We stand ready to continue our [liquefied natural gas] supplies,” read one such memo for a meeting with Germany. (Al Jaber denies the report.) Reporting from the Centre for Climate Reporting and Channel 4 revealed that Saudi Arabia, just next door, has been actively attempting to cultivate demand for oil and gas in Africa.

These revelations have been rightfully met with outrage. That outrage, though, should be consistent. Just because the U.S. doesn’t exercise direct control over its fossil fuel sector doesn’t make it any less responsible for the emissions it produces—especially as it cheers on increased drilling. Until the U.S. is willing to discipline its own fossil fuel producers and their dangerous expansion plans, its officials should hold off on lecturing other countries for being laggards too.