Gordon Brown Gives Free Pass to West’s Biggest Polluters – Europe Should Ignore Him

Datu Sadja Matthew Pajares Yngson
Oil storage fire. The tank farm is burning, black smoke is the combustion of hydrocarbons.

Great Britain (Brussels Morning) This week former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came out swinging calling for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Norway to use their oil billions to create a global climate fund for the world’s poorest. 

Except his plan makes no sense. Brown’s plan for a ‘windfall carbon tax’ focuses on a handful of Arab oil producers and the government of Norway – but ignores the world’s other biggest oil producers. 

Nowhere on his list of countries that must make climate payouts were the United States, the world’s number one oil producer; Russia, the second largest producer; Canada, the fourth largest; or China, the sixth largest. 

EDINBURGH,UK – July 1st, 2019: Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses a New Enlightenment conference at the Balmoral Hotel

It so happens that he has made lucrative earnings in these very countries: six figures for speaking engagements across North America; a three-day trip to China sponsored by the Chinese Government-linked Chinese People’s Institute for Foreign Affairs; six figures for speaking at Moscow events sponsored by Russian banks closely linked to the Kremlin (and which are now sanctioned). 

Demonizing Arab “petrol states” is easy. What doesn’t add up is that Brown ignores record profits accumulated by the world’s biggest oil companies in the US, UK, and France

UK-based oil giants Shell and BP have raked in $305 billion and $197 bn in revenues. Yet British taxpayers pay extortionate prices for their fuel and household gas bills – Brown’s plan overlooks how these companies benefit the most from the UK’s cost of living crisis. 

Brown also gets basic facts wrong. At one point he demands the UAE – host of this year’s United Nations COP28 climate summit – cough up $3 billion for his proposed global climate fund.

But in early September, the UAE already pledged $4.5 billion (designed to unleash a further $13 billion) to prove the commercial case for scaling up African renewable energy. This year, the country’s state-owned renewable firm, Masdar, became Africa’s largest renewables operator

The UAE is already doing more for African climate financing than the US, UK, and EU combined. That’s the verdict of a major new report I co-authored with seven other Global South experts from Turkey, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Nigeria, Kenya, Chad, the Gambia, and Bangladesh.

We rigorously compared the policy goals and actions of the five most recent COP climate summits. To our surprise, we found that the COP28 presidency has one of the most ambitious agendas in the history of COP climate summits. 

As COP28 president Dr Sultan Al Jabr told the UN Climate Ambition Summit at the General Assembly in New York, we have to eliminate 22 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the next seven years while still ensuring rapidly growing emerging markets in developing countries have enough energy. 

Even if we triple renewable energy over this time, as Al Jaber is demanding, we’ll still need to deal with emissions from the existing fossil fuel system for decades – which is why getting a global deal on phasing out fossil fuels where carbon isn’t captured is so important.

No previous COP summit has ever aimed to get such targets on renewables, reducing fossil fuels, and eliminating fossil fuel emissions to the negotiating table.

Which is why Gordon Brown’s remarks are so unhelpful. Yes, the UAE is a major national oil producer. But our analysis suggests that this is precisely why the country is in prime position to helm the next UN climate summit. 

In our report, we point out that UAE is the world’s first national oil producer to have created a state-owned renewable energy company back in 2006 (founded by Dr. Al Jaber) – and it was only after 2016 when the UAE’s government formally adopted a national ‘Post-Oil Strategy’, that Al Jaber was asked to head up the country’s state oil company Adnoc.

Under his watch, Adnoc transitioned its onshore power to 100% clean nuclear and solar electricity and is now investing heavily in carbon capture. While the company has come under fire for planning $150 billion investments this decade in oil and gas, our analysis shows that the UAE is overall planning $300 billion of renewable projects both domestically and worldwide by 2030. 

The grim reality is that American, French, British, Chinese, and Russian fossil fuel giants are planning far bigger expansions that Gordon Brown ignores. Last year, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell alone made $1 trillion in sales. By singling out a handful of Arab oil producers from the developing world, Brown’s approach grants such Western fossil fuel giants a free pass.

Ultimately Brown’s ire against “petrol states” is selective. Back during the 2008 banking collapse, which happened on Brown’s watch, he was begging the very Gulf states he’s now criticizing for financial help. So much so, he even allowed the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to put him up for the night – well four nights to be exact – in a $ 9,263-a-night Palace Suite.

He also co-authored his forthcoming book, ‘Permacrisis: A Plan to Fix a Fractured World’ – which he’s currently promoting – with Mohamed El-Erian, who advised Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco on its international bond offer. 

Instead of getting distracted by such divisive narratives, world leaders need to recognize progress wherever it’s found, and capitalize on it – even if it comes from a “petrol state”.

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Datu Sadja Matthew Pajares Yngson is the Representative Councilor of the Caribbean ASEAN Council, a UN-accredited NGO, and Executive Director and Envoy for Diplomatic Affairs of the UN-recognized Eastern Caribbean-Southeast Asian Chamber. He is co-author of COP28: Progress or Regression? An Empirical and Historical Comparative Analysis of COP Summits, a report jointly published by Uskudar University in Istanbul and the Caribbean ASEAN Council.