OPEC pursues charm offensive at COP28, for youths

By Valerie Volcovici

DUBAI (Reuters) - Oil producer group OPEC held an event on the sidelines of the COP28 negotiations in Dubai on Sunday aimed at convincing young people to support fossil fuels, whose future has caused deep splits among delegates at the climate summit.

Dubbed "Special Day – OPEC and the youth" the event included a presentation at its pavilion on the summit grounds, followed by what it called a campfire chat.

Roughly a dozen young people attended, some of them anti-fossil fuel activists.

OPEC officials working the event had a simple message: rapid population growth means oil demand will continue to grow, and renewable energy is expensive and limited.

OPEC’s Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais asked the audience to visualize a population boom the size of "50 Londons" by 2030. London’s population is about 9 million.

"This is to make a point of how much additional energy we're talking about," he said.

One OPEC representative pointed out the importance of fossil fuels in the medical sector, and asked the group whether someone who needed to be rushed away in an ambulance would care if the fuel used was sustainable.

A monitor behind him displayed the message: "OPEC recognizes the critical role of the youth in shaping the energy industry and shaping an energy future for all."

Around a dozen activists from the organization 350.org briefly entered the pavilion between sessions and chanted: "What do we want? Phase out. When do we want it? Now."

That was a reference to proposed language in the COP28 final agreement that would, for the first time, call for a phase out of the use of fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming.

OPEC opposes the proposal, and earlier this week made a rare intervention in climate talks by urging its members and allies to reject a targeting of fossil fuels in the final summit deal.

Another OPEC representative spoke with some of the young activists outside the pavilion, debating them on the future of oil.

Also on display in the OPEC pavilion were everyday items made with, or run on, petroleum products, like a soccer ball and a miniature school bus. A small chalkboard easel hand-written with different colors said: "Special day-OPEC and the Youth".

Michael Matchell, who attended the event on behalf of a group called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, told Reuters OPEC had a chance to listen to their concerns about climate change, but repeated its own arguments instead.

"I believe they missed a crucial opportunity to engage with young people," he said.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)