COP28: Can an oil executive from UAE broker a climate deal?

Although the CoP28 is taking place in a fossil fuel rich region and is presided over by a top oil executive, many are choosing to see the glass as half full by hailing the fact that fossil fuel interests are finally coming to the table and engaging in a process that directly undermines their interests

Updated - November 30, 2023 08:14 am IST

Published - November 28, 2023 08:00 am IST

The fossil fuel industry claims it is acting in good faith by promoting the use of technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere to retard changes in climate.

The fossil fuel industry claims it is acting in good faith by promoting the use of technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere to retard changes in climate. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The year 2023 is on track to be the world’s hottest year on record, even as government negotiators and climate policy professionals from around the world head to the annual UN climate conference (CoP). These conferences are a yearly occasion for countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to report the progress they have made on the aims of this landmark global agreement that took effect almost three decades ago. Very broadly, the agreement directs countries to curb emissions of greenhouse gases and to support efforts to help people adapt to ongoing changes in climate.

Last year’s conference, held in Egypt, resulted in a clear understanding of how emission curbs put in place by countries were nowhere near enough to limit global temperature rise to scientifically acceptable limits. It also included an acknowledgement of how rich countries were not on track to deliver $100 billion annually to poorer countries to deal with climate change, a commitment made at an earlier edition of the same conference. This is why the world’s gaze is focussed on the upcoming 28th edition of this annual event.

Controversy has preceded the conference even before it has opened. It is being held in the UAE, a country that is part of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Row over OPEC

By some estimates OPEC is singularly responsible for 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions as per 2010 calculations and has ensured that oil production has increased over the past two-and-a-half decades.

Additionally, the president of this year’s conference Sultan Al Jaber (who is responsible for brokering agreements between countries for solving the climate crisis) is the head of the UAE’s state oil company. Climate activists claim this is a big blow to the credibility of this COP28 even before the first discussions have begun.

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In its defence, the fossil fuel industry is claiming that its acting in good faith by reducing the environmental footprint of oil and gas operations and promoting the use of technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere to retard changes in climate.

Additionally, OPEC has publicly offered its support to achieving what it calls ‘practical, pragmatic and realistic solutions’ from this COP and will for the first time, host a ‘pavilion’ at the conference- a venue for talks, presentations and panel discussions on climate solutions. Regardless, there is a substantial agenda that delegates will be ploughing through in nearly two weeks of deliberations in Dubai. At the same conference held in Paris in 2015, countries agreed to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, and this conference will comprehensively review, for the first time, whether we are on track to realise this ambitious goal. Analysis done by the UN ahead of the conference leaves no ambiguity about how actions put in place to meet this target are not going to prevent the world from breaching agreed thresholds. However, this analysis also provides a roadmap that can prevent a climate crisis. This will be deliberated at COP28.

This year has brought events such as floods and cyclones that have wreaked havoc on every continent and devastated millions of lives. Therefore, even as climate negotiators and the media are sharply focussed on impending curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, significant changes in the earth’s climate are already underway. This is why finding impactful solutions that help people around the world to adapt and become resilient to these events is paramount.

Focus on adaptation

Many argue that the voices of those advocating for a greater focus on such actions have been drowned out in past conferences that have been sharply focussed on ‘mitigating’ the emission of climate change causing gases.

However, this COP28 might deliver a significant boost for those asking for more on adaptation. This is because even though the global community has set milestones and goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions there is currently no similar acceptable global standard for countries helping people vulnerable to floods, droughts, heatwaves and other climate shocks adapt effectively.

Therefore, COP28 will also further the agenda to establish a ‘Global Goal on Adaptation’, a cohesive and measurable target that will help people better withstand disasters and creeping changes brought on by climate change. This will not be easy though as negotiations leading up to this year’s annual conference have been fraught with disagreements between countries on the precise nature of this goal and how to finance actions to achieve these.

There is growing recognition that even as these complex negotiations over targets and goals unfold, large numbers of people across the world are being severely harmed by climate change.

This is why a potential multi-billion dollar ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ is the third critical issue that the conference will address. This refers to a pool of finance to compensate those suffering losses due to climate change.

Countries agreed to set this up at last year’s conference but essential details such as where the fund will be hosted, which countries will contribute, who will oversee its operations, how will access to resources be granted and which countries will be able to access them, are still to be formalised. Negotiations that have taken place through this year have yielded an uneasy consensus. Therefore, hope is once again is pinned on impending discussions in Dubai to deliver relief to millions suffering across the world.

(Dr. Aditya V. Bahadur is the Chair of the Research Strategy Team and Principal Researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development, U.K. where he leads policy research initiatives on climate resilient development)

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