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COP28: Open for business

By Andrew Adie
30 November 2023
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)

Today a small hammer was passed to Sultan Al Jabar officially starting the 28th Convention of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention, COP28.

That tiny hammer has an enormous nut to crack: This COP will see the result of the first Global Stocktake on net zero commitments which is expected to show a significant failure by governments around the world to deliver their net zero commitments.

Delegates from more than 180 countries will spend the next two weeks seeking to agree new targets for reducing green house gas emissions, speeding up the transition to a low carbon world, protecting nature and ensuring a just transition that allows the world’s poorest nations which are most impacted by climate change to pay for the adaption and mitigation needed to survive in a heating world.

This year is the hottest on record. The world is also increasingly divided by war, politics and economic turmoil. Achieving consensus and agreement looks, on the face of it, to be extremely difficult. 

Yet COP today got off to a surprisingly upbeat start with an agreement for a new fund to help developing nations meet the cost of climate change mitigation and extreme weather. Loss and damage and a framework for the richest nations to pay for the poorest (who are often the most vulnerable to climate change) to adapt, as part of a just transition to a net zero world, has been a bone of contention for years.

The G7 pledged in 2009 to pay $100million every year in loss and damage and to achieve that by 2020. It has yet to achieve that (although some reports claim that this year that milestone will be reached). 

While agreements on loss and damage are not the crux of the climate debate they are a critical issue and agreement on that smooths the way for progress in other areas. So it was a good development on day one.

Yet day one also got to the heart of the issue that dominates COP28 – fossil fuels and the intent and language that will be used to set out a framework for the future.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that COP28 should aim to achieve ‘the complete phase-out’ of fossil fuels to achieve the 1.5C Paris Agreement goal.

Yet India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said coal would remain India's main source of energy for years to come, underlying the gulf that lies between those seeking a breakthrough agreement on phasing out fossil fuels and those that remain less enthusiastic about the transition to a renewable future.

Into that conflict steps Sultan AL Jabar, President of COP28 who is also CEO of Adnoc (the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company). He has set out a vision for COP28 to focus on accelerating the net zero transition. Critics have read that as appeasement for the oil and gas industry. The more dovish commentators counter-argue that agreeing to wind down oil and gas cannot be achieved without agreement of the oil companies and oil-producing countries and urge us to wait and watch.

Media have reported Sultan Al Jabar stating in his opening speech that there are “strong views about the idea of including language on fossil fuels and renewables in the negotiated text ... I ask you to work together.”

“Colleagues, let history reflect the fact that this is the Presidency that made a bold choice to proactively engage with oil and gas companies.”

The UAE has also name nature a priority for these climate talks, and is aiming for a breakthrough agreement on preserving landscapes and biodiversity partly to offset emissions during the net zero transition and partly to preserve the planets natural assets.

All these are laudable ambitions but the success of COP28 will be judged on the words chosen and the agreements reached on oil, gas and coal. The UAE is a power broker among fossil fuel states. It maybe that Sultan Al Jabar can pull a rabbit from the hat and create a negotiating environment that delivers an unexpected breakthough.

Optimism around that has so far been low, the next two weeks promise to be a case study in diplomatic brinkmanship set against a backdrop of extreme weather, dwindling time and growing public and activist anger. 

The waiting is now over and the world is watching developments in the UAE.