Is COP28 destined to be a flop?

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

As a substitute, 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 truth that this manoeuvre was pulled on the COP in Sharm el-Sheikh left a fairly bitter style 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.

Together with European colleagues, he orchestrated a letter to US president Joe Biden and European Fee president Ursula von der Leyen, calling on them to press the UAE into changing Jaber, who can be the pinnacle of the Abu Dhabi Nationwide Oil Firm. 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 towards the COP28 presidency from local weather consultants, lawmakers and humanitarian teams, who concern that the organising group’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 throughout the COP27 local weather summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, final November © Emilie Madi/Reuters

The appointment was “a scandal” and a “good instance of a battle of curiosity,” says Michael Bloss, a German member of the European parliament with the Inexperienced Social gathering, who signed the letter. “It’s like placing the tobacco trade accountable for ending smoking.”

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

However Jaber has as a substitute 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 extend the usage of the polluting fuels.

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

A COP28 that lacks ambition and fails to attain 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 Nationwide Oil Firm, Sultan al-Jaber (2-L) and US local weather envoy John Kerry on the Atlantic Council International Power Discussion board in Abu Dhabi in January © AFP by way of Getty Photographs

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

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

COP presidencies have to be impartial, says Alden Meyer, a senior affiliate at think-tank E3G: “Can the incoming president and his group rise above UAE’s personal pursuits as a fossil fuels producer? That’s the actual query.”

‘Two weeks to save lots of COP28’

The announcement of Jaber as COP28 president in January sparked speedy anger from civil society teams, who stated it was folly to anticipate the pinnacle of a significant oil firm to advocate for formidable local weather motion. Underneath 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 vitality firm, Masdar, in 2006. Jaber stays the chair of Masdar, which has invested or dedicated $30bn to renewable energy initiatives throughout 40 international locations. However 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 options” till 2030.

The appointment of Jaber was adopted by a sequence 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 © by way of Reuters

The louder the criticism will get, nevertheless, the extra the COP28 group is more likely to dig in and go on the defensive, says one particular person with information of the group, including that they’d been “stunned” by the extent of criticism they’d acquired.

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

Jaber had this yr “constantly known as on the oil and fuel sector to up its recreation, do extra, and do it quicker,” it stated, and though “the phaseout of fossil fuels is inevitable . . . this can take time.” 

Western leaders have stood by Jaber, in public no less than. The EU’s commissioner for inexperienced coverage Frans Timmermans and US local weather envoy John Kerry every voiced their help for him quickly after his appointment. The French diplomat Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris Settlement, wrote in Could: “Who higher than the UAE to display it’s a part of the answer? The UAE can’t afford to play it secure.”

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

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

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

As a substitute, Jaber advised these current that fossil fuels would “proceed to play a task within the foreseeable future”, and offered little element in regards to the group’s plans for the convention.

That nervous some officers, who want to the Bonn Local weather Change Convention in June — roughly the midway level to COP — as the following main second when a blueprint may come.

One growing nation negotiator says it’s “key” that the COP28 group set out its imaginative and prescient “earlier than the summer time 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 lots of COP28 . . . he must arrive in Bonn with a plan of motion. It’s very important for his credibility that he meets the problem and ensures he’s not merely seen as a defender of oil and fuel pursuits.”

COP28 stated the president had “detailed priorities a number of occasions” after a “listening and engagement tour” this yr, together with making local weather finance extra obtainable and tripling international renewable vitality capability by 2030. 

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

However Jaber’s deal with fossil gasoline emissions, and the group’s early plans for a brand new alliance of oil and fuel corporations dedicated to lowering emissions that was extensively branded as unambitious, have nervous analysts.

The growing nation negotiator stated the deal with fossil gasoline emissions was “a harmful distraction.”

Mafalda Duarte, the incoming head of the UN’s Inexperienced Local weather Fund, says Jaber was proper about the necessity to spend money on options comparable to clear vitality, however questioned the deal with carbon seize applied sciences: “That is the place the scepticism is available in.”

The necessity to ramp up renewables, which Jaber has pressured, was solely “one aspect of the equation,” says Meyer. “I believe they’re attempting to keep away from having a full-blown dedication to the form of discount in fossil gasoline manufacturing and consumption that we have to see . . . That’s going to result in an actual conflict in Dubai.” 

A lightning rod

Past 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 below renewed scrutiny. Advocacy teams have known as for the discharge of dozens of dissidents who’ve been detained since 2012 for demanding political reforms.

There may be additionally the query of how western diplomats may 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 extensively criticised, was seen as a part of a transfer by international locations within the area to enhance relations with a regime below sanctions by the UN and others for its use of chemical weapons and different alleged battle 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 girl in Lebanon campaigns this week towards the detention of Lebanese residents within the UAE, exterior the international ministry headquarters in Beirut © Hussein Malla/AP

How the COP28 group juggles the competing pursuits on the summit would be the greatest take a look at of its dedication to tackling local weather change, analysts say — particularly because the affect of the regional powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, is predicted to weigh closely on the host.

However a COP hosted by a petrostate was at all times going to draw explicit scrutiny, consultants say. “Irrespective of who they put up for the president, there was going to be a notion of a battle,” says Meyer. Jaber was “a lightning rod for a wider 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 embody a brand new battle of pursuits coverage and guidelines that might require COP members to reveal climate-related lobbying.

However such concepts have been round for years, with little progress made, reportedly because of resistance from international locations 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 a matter that requires all of us to work collectively,’ he says © COP26

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

“We look ahead to being there,” says ambassador Samuelu Laloniu, a particular envoy from Tuvalu, a low-lying Pacific island in danger from sea stage rise. “Our absence from the dialogue won’t serve the pursuits of our islands.” 

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

“This is a matter that requires all of us to work collectively,” he says. “Generally it’s maybe extra vital to have interaction with these that don’t essentially share your perspective.”

However that doesn’t imply ignoring the important thing points at hand, provides Laloniu. “The one technique to preserve the [1.5C] goal alive is to handle the issue on the supply,” and fossil fuels are “the offender right here.”

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

“The prudent step,” he says, is to pile on the stress “to attempt to create the transparency and the setting the place they will’t go straightforward on the fossil gasoline trade.”

Extra reporting by Simeon Kerr

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