COP28 director-general: Business involvement in summit crucial to keep 1.5C alive

The director-general for this year’s UN climate summit has said that those concerned that businesses could undermine a strong outcome are “very unfamiliar with the process” and stated that the organisers remain “laser-focused” on keeping 1.5C alive.

COP28 director-general: Business involvement in summit crucial to keep 1.5C alive

Speaking exclusively to edie, H.E Ambassador Majid Al Suwaidi addressed concerns that the private sector is becoming too involved in the UN climate COP process, to the point that corporate interests could undermine the delivery of science-based outcomes on topics like rapid decarbonisation and scaling finance.

These concerns are raised every COP, given that most host nations now permit business-led side events and corporate sponsorship. Egypt, for example, was slammed for taking sponsorship from the Coca-Cola Company last year.

This year, tensions are even higher. COP28 will take corporate sponsorship but more contentious than this is the fact that the organising team have close links to the fossil fuel industry. The United Arab Emirates (UEA) has selected Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as president for this year’s confierence. Al Jaber, as well as being UAE minister for industry and technology, is chief executive of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation (ADNOC).

Last year, the UAE and other oil and gas exporters pushed for a final agreement to phase fossil fuels down, not out. They also wanted mentions of fossil fuel emissions rather than the fuels themselves, essentially paving the way for man-made carbon capture to be used as an alternative to transitioning to cleaner energy generation sources. This approach has been called out by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

But Al Suwaidi said that those concerned that the private sector will be able to push for short-term economic gain at the expense of climate science are “very unfamiliar with the [COP] process”.

He explained: “The negotiations process is an intergovernmental process that follows UN rules. Negotiators will have [separate] spaces just as they do at any other previous COP or UN event.

“But  we need to create those spaces, those opportunities, for negotiators to talk to civil society, NGOs and businesses.

“Before Paris, we were trying to deliver a political outcome. Now, we need to move to a phase of implementation. We need to move to actions on the ground, real-life projects and investments that are going to happen today. That’s only going to happen by Governments working with the private sector to really scale up and speed up [delivery].

“You can’t have that conversation by having just the Governments alone saying the private sector needs to do more, but not including the private sector.”

Creating space

Al Suwaidi has acted as a negotiator for the UAE at a string of previous climate COPs. Like many others familiar with the summits, he has observed at uptick in business presence since COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.

He explained how, to further foster conversations between non-state actors like businesses, his team have deliberately located the COP’s two zones – blue and green – right next to each other. At COP26, for comparison, the walk between the two exceeded 20 minutes.

The blue zone contains the official negotiating rooms, as well as hosting the organising nation’s pavilion and other high-level pavillions. This is also where world leaders make their introductions on the first two days. The green zone is usually allocated to non-state actors like NGOs, businesses, civil society groups, academia and city representatives.

Another difference between COP26 and COP28 that Al Suwaidi is expecting is a more global business community.

He explained: “We sit at the crossroads between developed and developing, north and south, east and west. One-third of the world’s population is within a four-hour flight of the UAE.

“We certainly have way more demand for participation than we’d expected.

“Glasgow really started opening the door to that participation. What we want to do is throw that open and have businesses being present and active. We’ve been doing a huge amount of engagement.”

Catalysing climate finance

Engaging non-state actors like businesses, Al Suwaidi said, is key to delivering a strong outcome from COP28 – not only in a robust decision text, but in the form of action on the ground.

Action on the ground is not, yet, matching the pace of what climate science tells us what is needed. Current national climate pledges are aligned with 2.7C, meaning the world will exceed both of the Paris Agreement’s temperature pathways even if pledges are delivered in full. This full delivery is unlikely.

With that in mind, the UN has tabled an additional climate meeting in New York this September. Nations have been asked to put forward new targets and more detailed delivery plans. Al Suwaidi said the COP28 team are “hugely supportive of” and “very closely involved” with the summit.

He said: “We hope that world leaders come and really set a vision of how we get back on track… we need to stay laser-focused on keeping under 1.5C.”

Whether this summit is a success will depend on whether nations bring forward new plans ahead of time, as they usually fail to do with COPs. Such plans need to be new, robust and science-based.

Al Suwaidi said that one success is already underway – mobilising finance for climate. He explained that he is considerably more optimistic than he was in early 2023, partly due to recent meetings in Paris to chart a course to unlock additional climate finance flows through multilateral development banks (MDBs).

“Systemic reform”, he said, will not come about without the involvement of these banks. They have a key role to play in making finance more affordable and accessible, as well as more available. Calls for this reform have been led by Barbados’ prime minister Mia Mottley.

Al Suwaidi is optimistic that reform will continue – not just in terms of MDBs, but in terms of grant funding from nations directly. He believes that a long-standing pledge for the Global North to provide $100bn of climate finance to developing and emerging nations will finally be met this year, despite current economic challenges.

Whether this is or is not met, he explained, COP28 will play host to “a frank conversation on why it’s taken so long to meet that $100bn”. The UAE will also be pushing for “more clarity” on how finance is being raised, allocated and accounted for.

This has been a key point of debate for NGOs and for developing and emerging economies in the lead-up to COP28.

CARE International believes that only $83bn will be provided this year, for example, partly due to creative accounting and plans lacking detail from some wealthy nations like Austria and Iceland. It also estimates that only 24% of the finance will go to adaptation, when the commitment covers 50%.

Al Suwaidi emphasised that his team will be keen to build upon and “operationalise” the Adaptation Agenda launched last COP. This has a headline commitment of improving the resilience of infrastructure for four billion people living in the most climate-vulnerable communities across the world.

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