Cop28 host UAE’s approach is ‘dangerous’, says UN’s ex-climate chief

According to the former UN climate head, the United Arab Emirates’ approach to the Cop28 climate summit, which it will preside over in November, is “very dangerous” and poses a “direct threat to the survival of vulnerable nations.”

Christiana Figueres, who played a key role in the historic Paris climate deal delivery in 2015, also stated that the nation hosting the UN summit could not take a position and had to remain neutral.

The UAE is a major producer of oil and gas, and Sultan Al Jaber, the president-designate of the Cop28 conference, also serves as the CEO of Adnoc, the UAE’s national oil and gas corporation.

Al Jaber had stated in a speech that “we must be laser focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, while phasing up viable, affordable zero carbon alternatives.” Figueres was replying to that statement.

This was widely taken to suggest that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology should be used to reduce CO2 emissions rather than entirely eliminating fossil fuels. On the Outrage and Optimism podcast, which she co-hosts, Figueres stated that it is “very concerning” that the word “emissions” is there in that statement.

He is attempting to dance simultaneously on two dance floors. He is attempting to convey the message that those of us who create fossil fuels are accountable for our emissions due to improved carbon capture and storage. Additionally, the Cop presidency or we will encourage low-carbon options.

From the perspective of the UAE, I can see that he believes the current usage of [fossil fuel] energy will be a component of the world’s energy mix for the “foreseeable future,” Figueres said, adding that foreseeable is a “long time.”

But it’s quite risky from the perspective of the Cop president. Because it poses a direct threat to their life, I just don’t see most nations—certainly not the most vulnerable nations—being willing to support the Cop president on this.

“You cannot advocate for the views of your home nation when you are the president of the Cop. You must be capable of remaining impartial.

If the world is to have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C, CO2 emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030. In the upcoming five to seven years, CCS won’t be commercially viable, according to Figueres. Simply put, that won’t happen. In addition to a moral concern, there is a temporal issue here.

Al Jaber’s election as Cop28 president in January drew a great deal of controversy. The UAE, which is only outdone by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in terms of net zero-busting ambitions for oil and gas expansion, was disclosed by The Guardian in April.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that new fossil fuel projects started after 2021 are not compatible with achieving net zero emissions by the year 2050. Scientists are in agreement that the majority of fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground to satisfy the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Al Jaber was “committed to lead an impartial process that gives space for all [countries] to express their views and find common ground,” according to a Cop28 official. He noted that Al Jaber’s call to triple renewable energy capacity and double hydrogen production by 2030 while using CCS to decarbonize heavy emitting industries where other options were not practical and claimed that it was a “misunderstanding” to believe that the phrase “phasing out fossil fuel emissions” referred only to CCS.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the IEA predict that fossil fuels will remain a part of the energy mix through 2050 as long as a 1.5C aligned pathway, the Cop28 spokesperson said. “The focus on ending fossil fuel emissions responds to the immediate needs of decarbonization in a pragmatic, practical and realistic way,” the spokesperson added.

Al Jaber has also urged the oil and gas sector to step up its game, eliminate methane emissions by 2030, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Fatih Birol, the director of the IEA, stated on Saturday: “Many were adversely hurt by rising energy prices in 2022. Nevertheless, it was a year of unprecedented earnings for the oil and gas sector. It’s time to use that for greater good now.

He said that while emissions from the oil and gas sector accounted for 15% of world emissions, they could be reduced by 60% by 2030 with an investment of $600 billion. The amount “[that is] much less than the trillions of dollars the industry accrued last year,” added Birol.

The oil and gas industry must clean up its act if it wants to be taken seriously in debates about climate change. Cop28 in the UAE, which is being hosted by a significant oil and gas producer, is a special chance for the sector to show that it is seriously committed to reducing emissions.

On a second recent podcast, Figueres also harshly blasted the global fossil fuel sector and its “shocking” profits.

What surprises me is that the oil and gas business appears to make no attempt to stand on the right side of history’, she said. They have no regard for the effects of it and are simply showing off their profits to everyone.

“These record-breaking profits aren’t being used for the benefit of humanity. They are being used by the sector and its shareholders, which represent a minuscule part of humanity. The fact that they have been choosing that is truly upsetting me.

Over the previous 50 years, the oil and gas sector has generated pure profit of $1tn annually on average.

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