Guest column

Texas expert: Evaluating COP28's progress amid the energy transition

The controversy that dogged the climate summit shows the extent to which misinformation, politics, and outdated beliefs reign supreme — and hinder progress toward net zero, says this Texas expert. Photo by COP28 / Anthony Fleyhan

Before it even started, COP28 drew sharp condemnation from activists and left-leaning politicians who took issue with the climate conference location: the United Arab Emirates, a leading oil and gas-producing nation.

“Time to say ‘the F-words’?” CNBC asked in one headline, referring of course to “fossil fuel.” A group of US and EU lawmakers called for the removal of COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, head of the UAE’s national oil company Adnoc. And former Vice President Al Gore slammed the host nation and the summit itself, saying it was “abusing the public’s trust” because al-Jaber couldn’t be an honest broker of a climate deal.

I get it. The optics were certain to raise eyebrows and provide low-hanging fruit for critics. But the extent to which the conference became a global flash point was surprising even to the most cynical of onlookers. Finger-pointing took center stage, relegating rational discussion to the shadows. Misinformation and distrust flourished as a tired old energy transition narrative took hold — one that pits villain oil and gas against hero Renewables in an epic fight to save the planet.

At Workrise we follow data, not ideology, you’ll know that success in the energy transition is an all-of-the-above proposition. And in this regard, COP28 made progress. Reading the text of the agreement it’s clear that the delegation has adopted the view that the dominant suppliers of energy to the world — oil and gas companies — must be a part of the solution going forward, and accepted the reality that fuel sources like nuclear and natural gas must be leveraged if we are to reach our 2050 targets.

This pragmatic approach makes sense all the time, but it has particular resonance now as the industry undergoes a sea change in the form of consolidation. Nowhere is this M&A wave more keenly felt than in Texas, where the value of 2023 mergers and acquisitions in the Permian basin reached more than $100 billion after massive deals including ExxonMobil's proposed $60 billion purchase of Pioneer Natural Resources and Chevron's $53 billion acquisition of Hess. These kinds of deals will bring a seismic shift in the way the industry operates — including by enabling companies like Exxon and Chevron to find new production efficiencies, and further bake emissions reduction into their operating models.

But what becomes clear when reading the COP28 agreement is that in nearly all cases, the room was too divided to put measurable targets on the board that are enforceable. Nearly every “commitment” comes with words that provide loopholes and outs.

So what we have is a “deal” that stops short of the kind of black-and-white commitments that create accountability — a deal with language folks can live with, but that won’t meaningfully change realities on the ground. Which begs the question: Why is that, and why can’t we do more?

Two words: dogma and hostility. They are the root cause of the polarization that gripped the conference and steers the wider conversation about the energy transition worldwide. With those powerful forces holding sway, we will never get to agreements that have the teeth required to move the needle on this global challenge.

At the end of the day, it was impressive to see Al Jaber emerge from the summit with a deal of any kind, despite the fire storm that he fueled with his comments earlier in the conference.

What the world needs is leaders who are willing to put aside ideology, rely on proven facts, and grab every opportunity they have to move the chains. Just as important, those leaders need to understand the sensitivity of this topic — and how easily it becomes cannon fodder for those who seek to weaponize it. Without the right leadership, how can we hope for the general public to engage meaningfully in this debate, and to understand what their vote — whether they cast it with their wallet or at the ballot box — truly means?

So long as both sides of this debate dig in and throw stones at each other, the journey to net zero will continue to get longer and more arduous.

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Joshua Trott is chief revenue officer at Austin-based Workrise, which is a labor provider and supply chain solution for energy companies — including some in Houston.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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