Oct 14, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Qatar's energy minister foreshadows COP27 fight

Photo illustration of Energy Minister for Qatar Saad Sherida al-Kaabi and an image of natural gas flames

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

Qatar's energy minister sees his country supplying liquefied natural gas to Europe for decades, despite the EU's plans to pivot quickly to renewables in the wake of the Ukraine-related energy crisis.

Why it matters: This view confirms the anxiety among climate activists and some world leaders about locking in too much gas infrastructure.

Driving the news: European countries dependent on Russian gas to heat homes and power factories have been scrambling for alternative supplies and the infrastructure to receive them, and many are turning to tiny Qatar, a global gas powerhouse.

  • In a wide-ranging interview with Axios, Qatari Energy Minister Saad bin Sherida Al-Kaabi said Europe made a mistake in pushing to switch to renewable energy too quickly while remaining dependent on Russian gas supplies for baseload power.
  • Qatar and the U.S. rank as the world's top LNG suppliers, and Qatar will significantly increase its capacity when new facilities open in 2026.
  • Al-Kaabi met with energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and top Biden energy official Amos Hochstein on Thursday in Washington.

What they're saying: "Whether it's in the US and EU, in the Americas and Europe and Asia, gas is absolutely going to be needed for a very long time," Al-Kaabi said.

  • "So if they have other ideas in Europe and so on, well, if they materialize into something that's a reality, and that they can transform to something else, you know, good for them. But until then we'll be serving their markets."

What we're watching: Al-Kaabi said the global community is heading into the next round of UN climate talks in Egypt after a year of emissions backsliding. This is largely due to geopolitical developments including the uneven covid recovery and the war in Ukraine.

  • "Realistically, what are we gonna say in COP27?" Al-Kaabi said.
  • "Coal today is at its highest ever utilization in the history of humanity," he said, noting coal's high CO2 emissions compared to natural gas.
  • "I think we're in a very delicate situation that we have to be very careful" about pushing fossil fuels to the maximum without considering the climate consequences, he said.
  • "Global warming is a reality that we can't hide away from." He cited QatarEnergy, which he leads, for moving aggressively into solar, carbon capture and storage and blue ammonia projects.

The intrigue: He gave his own take on whether industrialized countries should set up a fund to compensate developing countries for the climate disasters they are already experiencing as a result of the developed world's emissions.

  • Qatar's official position on "loss and damage," as it is known in UN climate parlance, will be decided at the political level in his government, Al-Kaabi said.

Yes, but: The creation of a loss and damage fund will be a major point of contention at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh.

  • "I would not support putting a fund together or whatever they're trying to do to compensate [countries] because I think there are much bigger polluters than us that would not actually participate in doing it," he said.

Our thought bubble: This response illustrates the difficulty negotiators will have in coming away from COP27 with a tangible funding mechanism, given a perceived first-mover disadvantage.

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