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Cops in Baku and Belem bode well for Global South

Azerbaijan and Brazil can bring their own perspectives on climate change

Baku is a good choice for the next Cop: Azerbaijan might be a big petrostate but it is fighting a nuanced battle against climate change Pexels/Rohit Potdar
Baku is a good choice for the next Cop: Azerbaijan might be a big petrostate but it is fighting a nuanced battle against climate change

If the radical environmentalists were upset that the UN chose an oil producer like the UAE for Cop28, they will be equally disgruntled that the next two climate change summits will be held in countries which similarly make a big chunk of their living from hydrocarbons.

The selection of Baku in Azerbaijan for Cop29 and Belem in Brazil for Cop30 underlines the point that a great many countries are oil and gas producers.

If the campaign against climate change is to have any chance of success it must involve those countries too, as much as the big consumers in Europe, North America and Asia.

It is also continuing a trend. As Cop28 president Dr Sultan Al Jaber pointed out last week in the run-up to the deal that clinched the “UAE consensus”, a majority of previous Cop hosts have been oil and gas producers.

The process of selecting Baku also showed how difficult it can be to find a suitable venue for the Conference of the Parties extravaganza.

By UN rules on rotation, the next summit was due to be held in eastern Europe, but the fraught geopolitics of the region since the invasion of Ukraine meant that all members of the EU – including Bulgaria, which offered itself as host – would have been blocked by Russia.

Armenia threw its hat in the ring, but western Europeans had reservations for the exact opposite reason – that Yerevan has been too close to Moscow and has been helping President Putin avoid western sanctions.

For a while Armenia blocked Azerbaijan, against which it has lost a succession of military conflicts over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But – no doubt with a Russian nod – it eventually withdrew its objections. So Baku it is.

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic which provided much of the fuel for the Soviet Union in its 70-year existence, is an unashamed petrostate.

It claims to be the site of the first oil well in the mid-nineteenth century, and Baku is littered with oil museums and monuments to the economic benefits the industry has brought.

Oil and gas production accounts for nearly half of GDP – more than the UAE – and more than 90 percent of export revenues.

But, much like the delicate line Baku has trod since the invasion of Ukraine, it has also begun to play a more nuanced role in the battle against global warming.

It has recently signed agreements with big renewables players in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to develop some of the most ambitious wind and solar projects in the world, and models its energy strategy on both those Arab countries, reducing dependence on hydrocarbons while continuing to enjoy the economic growth they bring for as long as possible.

But geopolitics and geography have always had a big impact on Azerbaijan, and will continue to do so.

Pipeline politics is a sensitive issue in a country which borders Russia, Iran, Armenia and Turkey and which shares the resources of the Caspian Sea with the first two of those.

The environmentalists and human rights groups will make a big issue of Azerbaijan’s attitude to dissident protest (not welcoming) but the Western energy policymakers will worry more about the outsized role Russia may play in Cop29.

Azerbaijan is a member of the Opec+ oil alliance and usually follows the line set by the dominant duo of Saudi Arabia and Russia within that organisation.

Which brings us to the host of Cop30. The relatively small city of Belem in Brazil sits at the mouth of the environmentally sensitive Amazon region. Indigenous protesters – legion at Cop28 – will not have far to travel.

Brazil is a top 10 global oil producer, and recently agreed to join Opec+ as a non-participating member, meaning it will not join in any cuts or increases to which the organisation agrees.

Rather, President Lula has said that his country will seek to drive Opec+ policy towards renewables and greater investment by the developed world in the energy transition. That stance sits well with UN climate ambitions.

Both Baku and Belem look to be good choices for the next two Cops, underlining how the aspirations of the Global South have to be taken into account as much as the dreams of virtue-signallers in Europe and America.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He also acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia

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