Delegates at COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference, will convene on November 30 in Dubai under greater pressure than ever to get commitments from governments and business leaders to drastically reduce global warming.
The conference comes at the close of an alarming year of weather extremes around the world – including record high temperatures, wildfires and flooding – that many scientists attribute to the acceleration of man-made climate change.
Al Jaber’s four pillars
The president of this year’s COP28, Sultan Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates, has said that the four pillars of the conference will be: ‘fast-tracking the [energy] transition; fixing climate finance; focusing on people, lives and livelihoods; and underpinning everything with full inclusivity’.
Yet there have been persistent questions about Al Jaber’s suitability for the role as he is chief of UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc, the world’s 11th largest oil and gas producer. Last year it announced a $150 billion ‘expansion growth strategy’.
Al Jaber has courted criticism by suggesting that an important reason for the failure of previous climate conferences to make significant progress is a lack of cooperation between climate campaigners and fossil fuel companies. Analysts say a key issue of contention is the COP president’s plan to involve energy companies in discussions at the Dubai conference to keep global warming below the 1.5C target set by the Paris Agreement – which would require a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030.
‘The oil and gas sectors do have a role to play at COP28 but that should not be at the expense of other priorities,’ says Karim Elgendy, an associate fellow at the Environment and Society Centre, Chatham House. ‘Given the obvious responsibility of this sector for emissions, it must be subject to additional checks and balances.’ Although the UAE announced plans this year to invest $54 billion to triple its supply of renewable technologies by 2030, more than 80 per cent of UAE government revenues come from oil and gas exports.
‘The question to ask of the UAE is how can a country with its fossil fuel-dependent economy encourage action much faster than the market will deliver? Yet countries like the UAE and private companies must shift their positions significantly and enable a rapid decline in the global use of fossil fuels,’ says Antony Froggatt, deputy director of the Environment and Society Centre, Chatham House. ‘The obvious danger is warm words but insufficient action.
Phase down or phase out
Climate campaigners will also be alert to the emphasis given to carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at the conference. Although Al Jaber referred to ‘the phase down of fossil fuels’ at the launch of the COP28 plan in July, he has emphasized the removal of carbon from emissions rather than a commitment to phase out fossil fuels entirely.