COP28 President and the UAE’s Lacklustre History on Climate Action


COP28 President and the UAE’s Lacklustre History on Climate Action

Posters against COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber. Source: Climate Fact Checks

The United Arab Emirates is hosting COP28. The country's economy heavily depends on fossil fuels, and its choice for COP28 president has a long history in the industry. Will this impact the conference?

12 October 2023 – by Eric Koons   Comments (0)

It is widely known that the COP28 president-designate is Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber. The president is chosen by the host country – in this case, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – and is the figurehead of the annual meeting.

The president guides the meeting’s discussions and acts as a mediator, working with country delegations to reach a consensus on key issues. This role gives them a guiding voice throughout the conference and is a way for the host country to communicate the goals for the meeting.

COP28 2023 is the first instalment of the Paris Agreement’s global stocktake process, a high priority is being placed on increasing renewable energy adoption. The first global stocktake will assess the world’s progress in rregard to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, resilience building and climate finance. Key assessment findings were released in September, showing how far the world is from achieving the goals laid down in the Paris Agreement.

“This year, the world will evaluate exactly where we are when it comes to climate progress through the first Global Stocktake. And we know we are way off track. We need a major course correction.”

Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, COP28 President-Designate

The Host of COP28 2023: A Contradictory Background

COP28 is in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from November 30 to December 12, 2023. This is only the second time the meeting has been held in the Middle East and is a pivotal moment for a region that has long been known as a central fossil fuel export hub.

Worldwide carbon emissions
Source: AQAL Group

While COP28’s goals are optimistic, there are still questions surrounding the country’s motives, as well as greenwashing concerns. Reports have shown that the UAE has embarked on a significant PR campaign to clean up its image and boost its green credentials. While not inherently a red flag, it raises doubts about the actual ambitions of the UAE regarding developing and acting on climate goals.

Furthermore, a document leaked to The Guardian includes a list of issues and messaging strategies the country plans to take to COP. Notably, the “key messages” for COP do not reference fossil fuels but instead focus on renewable energy.

In a section regarding the UAE’s fossil fuel-dependent economy, the document states: “The UAE is helping to build the energy system of tomorrow while reducing the carbon intensity of oil and gas.” Climate experts largely agree that reducing the emissions intensity of oil and gas is not a long-term solution.

A Deeper Look at the COP28 President-Designate Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber

Similarly, there are questions about the choice of Dr. Al Jaber as the COP28 President. He is the managing director and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ANDNOC) – one of the world’s largest oil companies, producing over 4 million barrels of oil daily.

Who is cop28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber
Source: S&P Global

However, proponents of Dr. Al Jaber cite his strong history of involvement in the country’s clean energy development. He has held the position of UAE climate envoy for two terms and is the chairman of Masdar, a leading renewable energy company in the UAE.

This juxtaposition provides a unique opportunity. Dr. Al Jaber is familiar with the nuances of both sides of the energy spectrum – fossil fuels and renewables. Plus, with his strong background in business, he can help close the public and private sector gap. Climate financing from the private sector currently makes up less than 2% of adaptation funding, yet it will be an estimated USD 2 trillion market by 2026.

Al Jaber’s Promising Stance on Climate Change

Since being nominated as president-designate of COP28 Dubai, he has had very climate-positive messaging, which is a good sign of his ambitions. This is highlighted by his vocal remarks on the need for an energy transition and getting the world aligned on a path to keep warming below 1.5oC and facing the climate and nature crises together. One of his leading goals for COP28 is to fast-track an action plan to triple renewable energy capacity, double energy efficiency and double hydrogen production by 2030.

“The COP28 plan of action is centred around: fast-tracking a just, equitable and orderly energy transition; fixing climate finance; focusing on people, lives and livelihoods; and underpinning everything with full inclusivity. Only by rising above our differences and working together can we raise our shared ambition and deliver progress to keep 1.5°C within reach.”

Dr. Al Jaber, COP28 President-Designate

The UAE’s Commitment: Rhetoric or Real Climate Leadership?

As the world comes together at COP28 UAE, constituents will be on both sides of the climate change agenda. It will fall on the host country and Dr. Al Jaber to unite these groups to create an impactful meeting with tangible climate targets and agreements. These moments throughout the conference will show how committed the UAE and Dr. Al Jaber are to spearheading climate action. And the world can’t stand to lose time in its net-zero push.

by Eric Koons

Eric is a passionate environmental advocate that believes renewable energy is a key piece in meeting the world’s growing energy demands. He received an environmental science degree from the University of California and has worked to promote environmentally and socially sustainable practices since. Eric’s expertise extends across the environmental field, yet he maintains a strong focus on renewable energy. His work has been featured by leading environmental organizations, such as World Resources Institute and Hitachi ABB Power Grids.

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