COP28: A Potential Turning Point for Global Climate Action

The UN climate change conference in Dubai, COP28, is on the verge of a significant breakthrough in the fight against climate change. With cautious optimism, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) negotiating team believes that COP28 may commit to phasing down and potentially even ditching fossil fuels in the coming decades. This conference, hosted by a petrostate, may seem paradoxical, but it signifies a significant shift in global priorities and could mark a historic moment in the battle against climate change.

Until recently, fossil fuels were rarely discussed at these global gatherings. It was only at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 that the first formal debate about their future took place, resulting in a promise to “phase down” coal. While a commitment to abandon fossil fuels entirely is unlikely to be made, the recognition of the need to address their impact on climate change is a crucial step forward. This acknowledgment will pave the way for strategies focusing on capturing and abating the carbon emissions produced by fossil fuels.

The presence of COP28 in the UAE, a country built on oil wealth, raises eyebrows. However, it is precisely because of the UAE’s oil-dependent economy that this shift in perspective carries weight. The president of COP28 and the head of the UAE state oil company, Adnoc, Sultan al-Jaber, is advocating for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Despite his bureaucratic language, his message is clear: he wants representatives from all the world’s countries to come forward with proposals to phase out or at least phase down the use of fossil fuels.

Many might question the UAE’s commitment, especially after reports of Mr. Jaber questioning the science of global warming during COP28. However, he clarified that his remarks had been misinterpreted and emphasized that the phase-down and phase-out of fossil fuels are inevitable. The head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Prof Jim Skea, reaffirmed the necessity of scaling back coal, oil, and natural gas to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Despite the UAE’s professed commitment, it is crucial to examine the motivations behind this stance. The UAE plans to increase oil production and sales while advocating for a phase-out of fossil fuels. The question arises: can a deal be reached at COP28? Over 100 countries, including the US and the EU, have expressed support for a phase-out of fossil fuels. China, a significant producer and installer of renewable technologies, has also hinted at a change in its position. Russia, another traditional hold-out, may be persuaded to support climate action.

However, Saudi Arabia remains a significant obstacle. As the world’s second-largest producer of oil and gas, the Saudi Energy Minister has emphatically stated that the country will not support a promise to phase down fossil fuels. Nevertheless, there are indications that the Saudi state oil company, Aramco, may back such a move to enhance the country’s reputation and facilitate business opportunities. Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s leader, Mohammed bin Salman, is pursuing a modernization agenda and views the UAE as a role model.

COP28 represents a potential turning point in global climate action. While commitments to abandon fossil fuels entirely are unlikely, the recognition and acceptance of the need to address their impact is crucial. The discussions at COP28 will provide a roadmap for future strategies aimed at reducing emissions and transitioning to more sustainable energy sources. As the conference unfolds, all eyes are on Dubai, waiting to see if this historic breakthrough can be achieved.