The world cannot afford this year’s climate summit to be a washout
The United Arab Emirates is not the first petrostate to host a UN climate COP conference, nor the first authoritarian regime. Sultan al-Jaber, the oil executive it has picked to be president of this year’s COP28 meeting in Dubai, is likewise not the first in the role to have spent years advancing his nation’s fossil fuel interests. But the depth of discontent over the UAE’s handling of COP28 is raising questions about whether it is up to the job. With just over five months to go before the meeting starts, Abu Dhabi has much more to do to quell the misgivings that last month led more than 130 US and EU legislators to call for Jaber’s removal. The lawmakers’ move reflects wider public unease. Jaber is to oversee COP28 at the same time as running one of the world’s largest oil and gas groups, the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Adnoc — which last year sped up plans to increase oil production capacity. The conflict is obvious. To keep global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5C, greenhouse gas emissions must nearly halve by 2030. And in the words of the UN’s authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there must be “a substantial reduction” in the use of the fossil fuels that account for more than 75 per cent of those emissions. With warming already at more than 1.1C, and ever more visible signs of heatwaves, floods and raging wildfires, time is running out. Scientists think temperatures could tip over the 1.5C mark in at least one of the next five years — a prospect that would have seemed shocking not long ago. Sultan al-Jaber has not explained the UAE’s plan for ensuring the Dubai COP makes the headway that eluded so many of its predecessors © IMAGO/Bernd Elmenthaler/Reuters After a dismal COP27 last year in Egypt, the UAE started well. It hired a clutch of western climate experts and consultants to work on COP28. It championed the important agenda item of a “global stocktake” of progress towards Paris targets aimed at triggering fresh climate action. It arranged to host the meeting and its 70,000 expected attendees in one huge Dubai convention centre. Normally visitors must scramble to and from several sites. Even its unwise choice of an oil man as COP president made some sense internally. Jaber has COP experience and was a founding CEO of the UAE renewables group, Masdar, years before green energy was mainstream in the oil-rich Gulf. Optimists saw a chance for him to use the heft of Adnoc to prod all oil producers towards meaningful decarbonisation. Likewise, there were hopes he could chart a path to bolster climate finance. But this required significant diplomatic skills on the part of the demanding Jaber, whose COP28 team has parted ways with at least three international communications agencies over the past year. He also alarmed some climate diplomats last month by speaking of the need to cut fossil fuel emissions, not use. This echoes longstanding oil and gas industry calls to bolster carbon capture tech that in reality must play a bit-part, not a starring role, in immediate efforts to tame emissions. Fresh concern arose when the UAE invited Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to a COP already strained by geopolitical tensions. Though Jaber told pre-COP28 discussions in Bonn last week that “the phase-down of fossil fuels is inevitable”, he failed to spell out a timeline. Most importantly, he did not explain the UAE’s plan for ensuring the Dubai COP makes the headway that eluded so many of its predecessors. That plan needs to drastically accelerate an orderly, fair and — above all — rapid global shift away from the fossil fuels at the heart of the climate problem, and not just their emissions. It must be made public as soon as possible. The world cannot afford yet another wasted COP. Top of Form.