Is COP28 destined to be a flop?


When Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator for Rhode Island, was invited to a dinner on the end result of the COP27 local weather talks in Egypt final yr, he was anticipating to satisfy some American businessmen within the area. 

Instead, to his dismay, the dinner was co-hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce, a robust lobbying group with ties to the fossil gasoline trade.

“The fact that this manoeuvre was pulled at the COP in Sharm el-Sheikh left a pretty sour taste in my mouth,” says Whitehouse, who for 9 years gave a weekly speech within the US Senate warning in regards to the impending local weather catastrophe.

So when the host nation for this yr’s summit, the United Arab Emirates, appointed oil govt Sultan al-Jaber to the pivotal position of COP28 president, Whitehouse determined he had had sufficient.

Along with European colleagues, he orchestrated a letter to US president Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, calling on them to press the UAE into changing Jaber, who can be the top of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. His management, argued greater than 100 signatories final week, risked “undermining the negotiations.”

The letter is probably the most dramatic instance but of a rising blowback in opposition to the COP28 presidency from local weather consultants, lawmakers and humanitarian teams, who concern that the organising staff’s ties to the fossil gasoline trade will impede progress at this yr’s summit in November. 

Activists participate within the Fridays for Future strike through the COP27 local weather summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, final November © Emilie Madi/Reuters

The appointment was “a scandal” and a “perfect example of a conflict of interest,” says Michael Bloss, a German member of the European parliament with the Green Party, who signed the letter. “It’s like putting the tobacco industry in charge of ending smoking.”

Scientists are clear that decreasing the manufacturing and use of coal, oil and fuel is vital to assembly the Paris Agreement objective of limiting warming to 1.5C above preindustrial ranges.

But Jaber has as an alternative talked about the necessity to deal with fossil gasoline “emissions,” a distinction that analysts says is out of the trade playbook and implied utilizing carbon seize know-how, which is unproven at scale, to delay the usage of the polluting fuels.

The position of COP president is instrumental to the course and goals of the annual summit, which brings collectively world leaders, negotiators, companies and civil society teams to hunt consensus on easy methods to deal with local weather change.

A COP28 that lacks ambition and fails to realize progress would feed into broader considerations in regards to the effectiveness of the summits, following sustained criticism of COP27 — which greater than 600 fossil gasoline lobbyists registered to attend.

UAE minister of state and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber (2-L) and US climate envoy John Kerry at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi in January
UAE minister of state and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Sultan al-Jaber (2-L) and US local weather envoy John Kerry on the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi in January © AFP through Getty Images

The deal penned in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, didn’t embrace a dedication to phasing down fossil fuels regardless of broad assist for the thought from nations together with the EU and US, following pushback from oil producing nations together with Saudi Arabia. 

Experts say it’s too early to put in writing off COP28, however that point is operating out for the presidency to win the arrogance of the worldwide neighborhood and present it has actual ambitions to make it successful.

COP presidencies have to be impartial, says Alden Meyer, a senior affiliate at think-tank E3G: “Can the incoming president and his team rise above UAE’s own interests as a fossil fuels producer? That’s the real question.”

‘Two weeks to save COP28’

The announcement of Jaber as COP28 president in January sparked rapid anger from civil society teams, who mentioned it was folly to anticipate the top of a significant oil firm to advocate for formidable local weather motion. Under Jaber, the Adnoc board final yr accelerated plans to extend oil manufacturing capability.

The Emirates countered that Jaber had been instrumental in guiding the UAE’s adoption of renewables and launching Abu Dhabi’s clear power firm, Masdar, in 2006. Jaber stays the chair of Masdar, which has invested or dedicated $30bn to renewable energy initiatives throughout 40 nations. But whereas Adnoc, which is a shareholder in Masdar, has dedicated $150bn in capital spending over 5 years to 2027, solely $15bn is earmarked for “low carbon solutions” till 2030.

The appointment of Jaber was adopted by a collection of uncomfortable developments, together with the information that the UAE had invited the Syrian chief Bashar al-Assad to the convention and employed a political adviser from the UK who was against windfall taxes on oil and fuel corporations to assist with communications. 

Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad with President of the UAE Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi in March
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad with President of the UAE Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi in March © through Reuters

The louder the criticism will get, nonetheless, the extra the COP28 staff is prone to dig in and go on the defensive, says one particular person with data of the group, including that that they had been “surprised” by the extent of criticism that they had acquired.

The COP28 staff didn’t touch upon whether or not it thought-about Jaber’s twin roles a battle of pursuits, however famous his 20 years working within the renewable power sector, his expertise in local weather diplomacy and his position in “decarbonising, transforming and future proofing Adnoc.”

Jaber had this yr “consistently called on the oil and gas sector to up its game, do more, and do it faster,” it mentioned, and though “the phaseout of fossil fuels is inevitable . . . this will take time.” 

Western leaders have stood by Jaber, in public at the very least. The EU’s commissioner for inexperienced coverage Frans Timmermans and US local weather envoy John Kerry every voiced their assist for him quickly after his appointment. The French diplomat Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris Agreement, wrote in May: “Who better than the UAE to demonstrate it is part of the solution? The UAE cannot afford to play it safe.”

An employee works near a digital screen displaying ammonia production units at the Adnoc headquarters in Abu Dhabi
An worker works close to a digital display displaying ammonia manufacturing items on the Adnoc headquarters in Abu Dhabi. The Adnoc board final yr accelerated plans to extend oil manufacturing capability © Bloomberg

But it’s but to point out proof of great ambition. COP presidents sometimes work to construct assist for his or her concepts all year long, over months of cautious diplomacy. 

May’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin was anticipated to be a second when the COP28 presidency outlined its imaginative and prescient for the summit.

Instead, Jaber instructed these current that fossil fuels would “continue to play a role in the foreseeable future”, and offered little element in regards to the staff’s plans for the convention.

That anxious some officers, who want to the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June — roughly the midway level to COP — as the subsequent main second when a blueprint would possibly come.

One creating nation negotiator says it’s “key” that the COP28 staff set out its imaginative and prescient “before the summer break.”

UAE’s emissions policies fall short of 1.5C warming target. Chart showing emissions (million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, excluding LULUCF*). By 2030.  The first chart shows these emissions levels against a backdrop of modelled predicted pathways. Each pathway corresponds to a level of global warming from 4C, down to the 1.5C target from the Paris climate agreement. In this we can see their current commitments and target have been classified as insufficient, meaning they would result in between 3C and 2C warming.  The second chart shows the same emissions levels but this time against a backdrop of what is termed ‘fair share’. On this count we can see that the UAE is rated as critically insufficient. This means that if all governments’  emissions targets were in the same range as the UAE, warming would exceed 4C.

Alex Scott, E3G’s lead for local weather diplomacy, places it extra bluntly: “Jaber has two weeks to save COP28 . . . he needs to arrive in Bonn with a plan of action. It’s vital for his credibility that he meets the challenge and ensures he’s not simply seen as a defender of oil and gas interests.”

COP28 mentioned the president had “detailed priorities multiple times” after a “listening and engagement tour” this yr, together with making local weather finance extra accessible and tripling world renewable power capability by 2030. 

One main focus at COP28 would be the so-called “global stocktake”, when nations will assess progress in direction of slicing emissions. Another key dialogue might be about how a brand new fund to assist pay for the harm performed to creating nations by excessive climate occasions will perform. And all eyes might be watching to see whether or not the ultimate deal features a dedication to part down fossil fuels. 

But Jaber’s give attention to fossil gasoline emissions, and the staff’s early plans for a brand new alliance of oil and fuel firms dedicated to decreasing emissions that was broadly branded as unambitious, have anxious analysts.

The creating nation negotiator mentioned the give attention to fossil gasoline emissions was “a dangerous distraction.”

Mafalda Duarte, the incoming head of the UN’s Green Climate Fund, says Jaber was proper about the necessity to put money into options equivalent to clear power, however questioned the give attention to carbon seize applied sciences: “This is where the scepticism comes in.”

The have to ramp up renewables, which Jaber has burdened, was solely “one side of the equation,” says Meyer. “I think they are trying to avoid having a full-blown commitment to the kind of reduction in fossil fuel production and consumption that we need to see . . . That’s going to lead to a real clash in Dubai.” 

A lightning rod

Beyond the fossil fuels query, the presidency should navigate different tough challenges, together with easy methods to make civil society teams really feel comfy in a rustic that doesn’t enable protests.

The summit has introduced the UAE’s human rights document underneath renewed scrutiny. Advocacy teams have referred to as for the discharge of dozens of dissidents who’ve been detained since 2012 for demanding political reforms.

There can be the query of how western diplomats would possibly negotiate being in the identical place because the Syrian chief and his representatives, in the event that they select to attend. The invite, which has been broadly criticised, was seen as a part of a transfer by nations within the area to enhance relations with a regime underneath sanctions by the UN and others for its use of chemical weapons and different alleged warfare crimes and acts of brutality.

A woman in Lebanon campaigns this week against the detention of Lebanese citizens in the UAE, outside the foreign ministry headquarters in Beirut
A lady in Lebanon campaigns this week in opposition to the detention of Lebanese residents within the UAE, outdoors the international ministry headquarters in Beirut © Hussein Malla/AP

How the COP28 staff juggles the competing pursuits on the summit would be the finest check of its dedication to tackling local weather change, analysts say — particularly because the affect of the regional powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, is anticipated to weigh closely on the host.

But a COP hosted by a petrostate was at all times going to draw specific scrutiny, consultants say. “No matter who they put up for the president, there was going to be a perception of a conflict,” says Meyer. Jaber was “a lightning rod for a much broader critique of the system.”

Behind the scenes, the UN’s local weather chief Simon Stiell is working to reform the COP course of to make it extra clear. Civil society teams hope adjustments will embrace a brand new battle of pursuits coverage and guidelines that may require COP individuals to reveal climate-related lobbying.

But such concepts have been round for years, with little progress made, reportedly on account of resistance from nations together with the US and Australia.

Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Pa’olelei Luteru, speaks at Cop26
Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Pa’olelei Luteru, the Samoan chair of the Alliance of Small Island States. ‘This is an issue that requires all of us to work together,’ he says © COP26

Despite discomfort on the UAE’s internet hosting in some quarters, no nations are but speaking publicly about boycotting the summit. Representatives of local weather susceptible nations mentioned it was vital for them to be current.

“We look forward to being there,” says ambassador Samuelu Laloniu, a particular envoy from Tuvalu, a low-lying Pacific island in danger from sea degree rise. “Our absence from the discussion will not serve the interests of our islands.” 

Ambassador Fatumanava-o-Upolu III Pa’olelei Luteru, the Samoan chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, says nations should attend the summit to have “a mature, productive conversation.” 

“This is an issue that requires all of us to work together,” he says. “Sometimes it’s perhaps more important to engage with those that do not necessarily share your perspective.”

But that doesn’t imply ignoring the important thing points at hand, provides Laloniu. “The only way to keep the [1.5C] target alive is to address the problem at the source,” and fossil fuels are “the culprit here.”

If western leaders do nothing else, says the Democratic senator Whitehouse, they need to preserve shut scrutiny of the UAE till November.

“The prudent step,” he says, is to pile on the stress “to try to create the transparency and the environment where they can’t go easy on the fossil fuel industry.”

Additional reporting by Simeon Kerr

Climate Capital

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