John Kerry walks with a clenched fist at COP28.

John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, attends day 13 of COP28 on December 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

(Photo: Fadel Dawod/Getty Images)

Halting LNG Buildout Dubbed ‘Clearest Test’ of US COP28 Commitment

"Kerry's job isn't done," Bill McKibben wrote. "He needs to return home and convince the White House to pause the granting of new export licenses for the ongoing LNG buildout."

If it wants to honor the deal it helped negotiate at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, the U.S. must stop the planned expansion of liquefied natural gas infrastructure, climate campaigners say.

COP28 concluded Tuesday with a final document calling on nations to "contribute" to the goal of "transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly, and equitable manner." While this falls short of the global phaseout of fossil fuels sought by civil society and climate-vulnerable countries, it does give activists a "tool" in their efforts to stop fossil fuel expansion in their home countries, and Third Act co-founder Bill McKibben wrote Wednesday.

"If the language means anything at all," McKibben said, "it means no opening no more new oil fields, no more new pipeline[s]. No more new LNG export terminals."

"Concrete actions mean a lot more than words at a climate summit."

U.S. climate campaigners and frontline communities have already been pushing back against the expansion of LNG. More than 300 groups from more than 40 countries submitted a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden during COP28, calling on him to stop permitting new LNG infrastructure and to stop supporting LNG projects overseas. Within the U.S., which is already the world's leading LNG exporter, both existing and planned terminals would have the combined emissions of 675 coal plants. One in particular, Venture Global's Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2), would spew 20 times the climate pollution into the atmosphere as the controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.

"The United States is doling out permits for new gas export terminals like there's no tomorrow," said Ben Goloff of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the letter's signatories. "Our new analysis shows that the Inflation Reduction Act's emissions benefits are more than canceled out by the Biden administration's support for new fossil fuel projects, and new LNG export facilities are the engine of this disastrous machine."

Activists and journalists have also criticized the U.S. for hypocrisy as it advocated for strong language around fossil fuels at COP28 while being responsible for more than a third of new planned oil and gas extraction through 2050. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the climate talks, the State Department approved a fracked gas pipeline in Mexico without reviewing its emissions.

In his COP post-mortem, McKibben argued that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry should follow up his diplomacy abroad with domestic persuasion.

"Kerry's job isn't done," McKibben wrote. "He needs to return home and convince the White House to pause the granting of new export licenses for the ongoing LNG buildout, a project so enormous that by itself it could produce more greenhouse gas emissions than all of Europe."

If he succeeds, McKibben continued, "we will know there was something real in all this endless talk."

Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn also argued that the COP28 deal should be used to push the U.S. away from its gas plans.

"Concrete actions mean a lot more than words at a climate summit," Henn tweeted in response to a statement against CP2 from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). "In the U.S., the clearest test of our commitment to move away from fossil fuels is stopping these massive new LNG export terminals."

McKibben said it was up to civil society to give the new commitment to "transitioning away" from fossil fuels the same power as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 1995 acknowledgement that human activity was having a "discernible influence" on the climate and the Paris agreement commitment to "pursue efforts to limit [warming] to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels."

McKibben concluded: "Today's agreement is literally meaningless—and potentially meaningful. But the diplomats are done now—the rest of us are going to have to supply that meaning."

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