UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that the Cop-26 global climate talks in Glasgow from 31 October will be “extremely tough,” as he makes a last-ditch call for world leaders to take concrete steps to protect the planet. Earlier this month US Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Jonathan Pershing, speaking from South Africa, gave a stern and unprecedented warning to Western fossil-fuel companies looking to develop deposits in Africa, saying they will need to consider the significant risk of regulatory action as the world moves to tackle climate change.

The world has never before faced such a critical juncture. The ambition to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C is incredibly tough and will require all countries to fully abide by strict commitments to stand even a chance of success. The IEA says that for net-zero targets to be reached, no new investments in fossil fuels should be made (MEES, 15 October). It is indeed a make-or-break choice for the world. But while more and more governments are announcing net-zero ambitions, there have been serious misalignments on how to get there.

To say that the issue is complicated is an understatement, given the extent to which hydrocarbons are embedded in our lives. Many of those demonstrating against fossil fuels have arrived by transport ultimately fueled by them, often traveling on asphalt roads, wearing clothes produced in fossil-fuel powered factories and utilizing petrochemicals-based devices. Even the energy transition itself will depend on vast quantities of energy-intensive concrete and metals.

The current energy price crunch further highlights the complexity of these issues. With energy prices soaring in Europe, more than a dozen European power companies have filed for bankruptcy and governments are desperately searching for additional fossil fuel supplies. Switching from gas to more-polluting coal and oil is on the rise. Meanwhile, with rising gasoline prices hitting US consumers’ pockets, the White House has called for Opec to increase oil production (MEES, 22 October). This reflects the state of confusion the world is in when it comes to fossil fuel consumption and net-zero.


None of this is to say that the fossil fuel industry should be absolved of responsibility. Like it or not, being responsible for around 80% of global emissions, the fossil fuel industry bears the moral responsibility for the cleanup. To visualize the seriousness of the matter, by the time you finish reading this article, the world will have emitted an additional 1mn tons of CO₂ into the atmosphere, and there are no signs of that declining any time soon.

Achieving the 1.5°C ambition will be a highly complex and risky balance of moving targets and priorities, between investments in economic recovery projects versus investments in climate activities.

One of the most challenging issues is securing the buy-in of the developing world, where many governments are understandably aggrieved that developed countries which have built their economies on access to cheap fossil fuels are calling on them to spurn the same opportunities. How can anyone convince developing countries not to tap into the fossil fuel treasures they sit on?

Yet the consequences of doing nothing are grave for all of humanity. An unchecked rise in temperature global temperatures of more than 3°C would trigger extreme weather conditions, wildfires, scarcity of food and water, which would in turn trigger major political and social unrest.

This warrants immediate and united mitigation measures. And for such a huge undertaking to succeed, there would have to be a fair and equitable system in place to facilitate the energy transition into cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.

However, one cannot avoid noticing how the matter is getting politicized as new vocabulary slowly emerges into the climate arena such as “climate justice”, “energy equality” and other equally-vague terms.

Historical emissions data undoubtedly documents who caused emissions in the past, and data can also demonstrate who is causing it today. But this is open to distortion by modelers, which enables the biggest culprits to point the finger at the victims. Displaying emissions per capita and per income or GDP is not only distorting the picture, but is misleading decision makers into focusing on non-effective measures.

The fact remains, a handful of countries have caused the damage historically and another handful of countries are exacerbating the damage. Simply put, a logical solution would be for developed economies to assist the developing countries financially and technologically, and for the world to focus on the highest absolute polluters on the list in order to make an impactful difference.

Such manipulation of data is causing the international community to penalize developing countries keen to bring wealth and prosperity to their populations, not for luxurious purposes or for sustaining a certain lifestyle, simply for survival, putting them on a defensive mode which will not help with achieving the targets. Many developing countries bear the risk of failure to eradicate energy poverty, which could trigger widespread social unrest.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is a group of the most vulnerable islands to global warming. The members are among the nations least responsible for climate change, having contributed less than 1% to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If the international community continues to flip the picture and shift the blame and burden of responsibility on the developing nations, similar alliances are bound to form to push back the pressure which will jeopardize achieving the net-zero goals.


The oil-dependent Middle East economies are under especial scrutiny and branded as major contributors to global emissions based on per capita emissions ranking. To put things in perspective, the Middle East’s share of the world’s cumulative CO₂ emissions is modest. Today, the region’s share of emissions stands at 6.5% according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy for 2021. By contrast the US alone contributes 13.8% of global CO₂ emissions.

If the world is serious about achieving net-zero by 2050, the highest CO₂ emitters need to take the first steps and take upon themselves responsibility to clean up their acts, as well as providing the financial means and technology support to developing nations to reduce emissions growth without sacrificing their economies. The continued failure to meet the $100bn/year Climate Finance Delivery Plan to support emerging economies is a damning indictment that the developed world is not yet ready to provide the necessary support.

When Boris Johnson, Jonathan Pershing and other world leaders push for “extremely tough” measures to prevent a catastrophe they should look in the mirror.

*Mr Zubari is writing in a personal capacity.