COP28 President outlines vision for climate conference, including ‘inevitable’ reduction in fossil fuels

Dr Al-Jaber is the UAE’s minister for industry and technology and also its Special Envoy for Climate Change.

His additional position as chief executive of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation (ADNOC) has caused rows, however. Debate has been ongoing about the potential permeation of oil interests in the official negotiations and how this could undermine the delivery of a science-based agreement in regards to the energy transition.

This week, Dr Al-Jaber’s team has sought to allay some of these concerns, while also setting the tone for pre-COP meetings, by publishing their ‘action plan’ for the summit.

Regarding energy, the host team has confirmed that they will advocate for an agreement to double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements. This is in line with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) research.

The UAE will also back a new global pledge to treble global renewable energy capacity this decade. It wants such a pledge to emphasise the importance of increasing renewables investments in emerging and developing markets, as they are set to be the major sources of emissions growth if they attempt to develop rapidly using fossil fuels.

Dr Al-Jaber has called the need for a reduction in fossil fuel production and combustion “inevitable” and also “essential” to deliver the Paris Agreement.

Last year, at COP27, the UAE and other major fossil fuel exporters pushed for a text agreeing to ‘phase down’ fossil fuels rather than to ‘phase them out’. This angered many present, including island states most impacted by the climate crisis. The UAE is sticking with this language for now.

Perhaps a cause for event greater anger was a push to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, rather than reducing the fuels themselves. Wording an agreement like this would give a loophole to producers, allowing them to avoid transitioning to clean energy by fitting carbon capture tech instead.

The UAE’s statement indicates a shift away from this position. Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres vocally opposed this example of what he called reliance on “wishful thinking and unproven technologies”.

There will notably be a G20 meeting on clean energy in Goa later this month.

Adaptation and wellbeing

Another key facet of the UAE’s COP28 action plan is advocacy for countries to better embed emissions from food and land use in their Paris Agreement Commitments.

Nations are being asked to put forward National Food System Transformation Plans ahead of COP28. These should be embedded in their National Climate Adaptation Plans and in carbon accounting plans under the Paris Agreement.

Linked to this, the COP28 team has confirmed that they will host a ministerial meeting at the summit on climate and health. Germany, Kenya, Egypt, Brazil, the UK and Fiji have already confirmed plans to attend. There has never been such a meeting at a COP before, but there has been an increasing push to include the healthcare sectors and unify policymakers working on public health in recent years.

Dr Al-Jaber’s team has stated an ambition to continue the work on climate adaptation commitments made last year. The UN’s vision is to improve protections for four billion people by 2030. The best chance of delivering this, the UAE COP team has stated, is by doubling international adaptation finance by 2025.

As almost all COP hosts have done, the UAE has stated its intention to make COP28 the most inclusive COP to date. It will host a pavilion for Indigenous Peoples and a major youth programme.

It remains to be seen whether this COP will finally be a turning point for female representation and accessibility for those with disabilities. There is also the matter of the expense related to travel and accommodation, which can be a barrier to equal access to COPs.

Commenting on the plan, UN climate chief Simon Stiell said: “Few months remain until COP28. Under the leadership of the UAE Presidency, 1.5C is the north star, with a focus on delivering a resilient future for all. This requires specifics. We know what needs to be done. COP28 must agree [on] the ‘how’.

Related feature: Business involvement in COP28 ‘crucial’, says summit’s director-general

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