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UAE must deliver tangible results at Cop28 to quiet the critics

Host nation faces intense scrutiny but has credentials to come up with the goods

Cop28 Masdar
Sultan Dr Al Jaber will lead Cop28, utilising experience as a government climate envoy, CEO of oil giant Adnoc and founder and chairman of UAE clean energy company Masdar

The UAE is pulling out all the stops to make a success of the annual UN climate conference, Cop28, to be held in Dubai in November to December. But with some scepticism about holding the next summit in a leading oil exporter, the UAE needs to deliver climate progress both at home and abroad.

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week saw a stream of speeches and announcements that set the scene.

But first a bit of context. The original Cop1, in Berlin in 1995, and chaired by an up-and-coming environment minister called Angela Merkel, was a relatively modest affair. The famous Kyoto Protocol emerged from Cop3 in the Japanese city.

Cop15 in Copenhagen brought great disappointment and anger over a failure to agree a successor to Kyoto.

Only three of the events have been held in major oil and gas-exporting countries: Canada, Mexico and, in 2012, Qatar.

Cop 21 in 2015 produced the crucial Paris Agreement, the framework for further climate action to limit warming to no more than 2C, and ideally to keep it below 1.5C, a level likely to be breached this decade.

Each participating country delivers a “Nationally Determined Contribution” of what it will do to limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, which it is supposed to refine and strengthen every five years. 

Over time, the events have evolved to have three main purposes: international climate negotiations, business deal-making and then civil society and activist dialogue.

Some 45,000 people attended Paris, and more than 35,000 turned up for last year’s Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Cop27 was billed as an “African Cop”. It was not expected to make dramatic breakthroughs. It delivered moderate progress on a fund to compensate lower income countries for climate damage, and on deforestation.

Cop28 will be the last event in the Middle East and Africa for at least four years. It will be helmed by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, whose role as CEO of state oil giant Adnoc has received most scrutiny.

Less attention has been paid to his background as founding chief executive and current chairman of clean energy company Masdar, UAE climate envoy and minister of industry.

Cop28 will host the first global stocktake since Paris, in which the participants are supposed to formally assess progress in cutting emissions.

This is a critical step. We already know the answer: progress is far too slow, or even in reverse, with greenhouse gas releases likely to reach a new record this year after dropping during the pandemic. To stay on track to limit global warming, emissions need to drop 45 percent by 2030, an almost insuperable task.

It is vital to assess where progress is being made, what the reasons are for lack of overall success, and how to fix these problems.

Other key areas include mobilising more climate finance for developing countries, operationalising loss and damage compensation, and setting rules for international carbon trading.

Advancing international cooperation involves skilled organisation and diplomacy by the host country, but, ultimately, they cannot force agreement. The UAE has more control over its own actions.

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week gave a taste of the kinds of announcements that can be expected to flow in a steady stream up to and during Cop28.

A series of international cooperation includes an allocation of $20 billion to build 15 gigawatts of renewable power in the USA. There are hydrogen deals with Japan, South Korea and the Netherlands, and with the UK on a range of clean energy technologies.

Masdar aims to expand its renewables portfolio by 10gw this year en route to a target of 100gw by 2030 and build 4gw of wind and solar power in Azerbaijan.

Sharjah National Oil Company aims to be net zero carbon by 2030. 

Adnoc itself has allocated $15 billion to 2030 for low carbon initiatives. It began injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) into a subsurface formation bearing saline water, as part of creating “blue” ammonia.

It also started an intriguing pilot to trap the global warming gas in rocks in Fujairah, converting CO2 to solid minerals for permanent safe disposal. These are steps towards its goal of capturing 5 million tonnes of CO2 annually by the end of the decade.

Still, the UAE will need to go further to achieve its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 percent by 2030, equivalent to cutting about 100 million tonnes of annual emissions.

That will require more carbon capture, further boosts to energy efficiency and an acceleration of the country’s already impressive solar power deployment.

These are well underway but more nascent areas need to emerge seriously before 2030, notably hydrogen for heavy industry and electric vehicles.

The UAE is also becoming a key player in the international clean energy economy: laying plans to export clean hydrogen to Europe and East Asia, and becoming one of the world’s largest developers of overseas renewables, not just in the UK and US but also across Africa and Central Asia where Western green investors rarely tread.

The country will face criticism from the usual quarters at Cop28, as a large and growing exporter of oil and gas – to willing buyers.

The best riposte is to deliver constructive results from the negotiations, build more concrete foundations for the domestic clean energy economy and expand alliances with traditional and new partners.

Everyone, but developing countries most of all, need affordable, secure and green energy of all types.

Robin M. Mills is CEO of Qamar Energy, and author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis 

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