Insight & Analysis

COP28: is this time different?

Published: Dec 2023

As 70,000 people descended on Dubai to discuss climate change, the COP28 summit attracted negative attention because the host – the United Arab Emirates – is one of the world’s largest oil producers, calling into question its commitment to phase out, or phase down, the use of fossil fuels.

Environmental technology concept for sustainable development goals

Multilateral negotiations can be tough at the best of times, and when it comes to reaching agreement on climate goals, there is a lot that needs to be thrashed out. As 70,000 delegates from around the world meet in Dubai for the COP28 – which runs until 12th December – many are hoping progress can be made, and this time things will be different.

Even the name of the summit is complicated. COP28 is the short version of the 2023 Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), all the countries that have signed up to UN goals on climate change.

This year’s summit has attracted negative attention because the host – the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – is one of the top 10 oil producers in the world, calling into question how seriously the event can be taken. The COP28 president, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, is also the Managing Director and CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and has been plagued by negative headlines. The BBC suggested the event would be used to sign oil and gas deals, and the Guardian drew attention to an online debate from November where Al Jaber seemingly questioned the science behind the UN’s climate goals.

Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, the COP countries have been committed to capping global temperature increases to 1.5°C, the level deemed necessary to prevent the worst damage from climate change.

To get there, however, there needs to be a commitment by all parties to wean themselves off fossil fuels, in a ‘phase out’ or a ‘phase down’ – the phrasing of which has proved to be a major bone of contention in the COP28 climate talks.

Al Jaber was reported as previously saying, there is “no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 [degrees].” Since then, he has said this was taken out of context and stated he respects science. “I have repeatedly said that it is the science that has guided the principles or strategy as COP28 president. We have always built everything, every step of the way, on the science, on the facts.”

Rather than focusing on his role as the CEO of an oil company, observers could equally look to Al Jaber’s experience as the Chair of Masdar – also known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company – a state-owned renewable energy company that has developed clean alternatives to oil such as wind and solar power.

There are signs this climate summit will be different. This COP28 is the first time there will be a global stocktake of the countries’ progress since they signed up to the commitments of the Paris Accords.

According to figures from the UN Environment Programme, the world is far off the 1.5°C and is projected to reach between 2.4°C and 2.7°C of temperature increases by 2100. With figures like these, the opportunity for taking corrective action is closing.

The opening of COP28 was also marked with the announcement of a new fund to help poor nations with disasters, to which a number of countries have already pledged hundreds of millions of dollars. Al Jaber also mentioned the UAE had announced the largest private investment vehicle for climate change action – Alterra – and a US$30bn commitment to climate financing, with the aim of mobilising US$250bn of private sector investment by 2030. “We all know that climate finance is not available, accessible or affordable enough. This is impacting lives and livelihoods across the Global South,” said Al Jaber. He also said, “No single initiative will create the climate finance system we need. Together, we must build a holistic ecosystem of solutions.”

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