HomeWorld NewsCOP28 starts on a high with rich countries pledging millions to help poor ones
COP28 starts on a high with rich countries pledging millions to help poor ones
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Dubai: At the head of one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, steering the UN climate talks, or behind the wheel of a golf buggy, Dr Sultan al-Jaber relishes the driver’s seat.
Less than 24 hours before the start of the COP28, Jaber – who serves as both the climate summit’s president and as chief executive of the United Arab Emirates state-owned oil company – looked right at home driving a two-cart convoy of dignitaries (US Climate Envoy John Kerry among them) through the manicured streets of Dubai’s Expo City.
And of course, he was.
The UAE is this year’s host nation for the UN Conference of Parties (COP), which all agree is the most consequential summit of its kind since the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees, while aiming for a cap of 1.5.
COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber at a news conference at the COP28 climate summitCredit: AP Photo/Peter Dejong
It started with a bang on Thursday (Friday AEDT), when Jaber made the surprise announcement that an agreement had been forged to create a new fund to help poor nations cope with costly climate disasters.
The announcement was warmly received by climate observers as wrangling over loss and damage has long been a divisive issue at the annual talks, with rich nations traditionally pushing for a focus on mitigation and poorer nations demanding financial support for adaptation to climate change.
Jaber says the decision sent a “positive signal of momentum to the world and to our work here in Dubai”.
In practice, by establishing the fund on the first day of the two-week conference, it allowed countries to announce their contributions. And several did – pledges already made range from $US245.3 million ($370 million) from the European Union including $100 million from Germany; and $US100 million from the UAE, to $US17.5 million from the US and $US10 million from Japan.
Australia supported the decision for a loss and damage fund at COP27 but is yet say what it will contribute.
Though the shift to clean energy is gathering pace, the United Nations says the world is taking baby steps when leaps and strides are urgently needed. This year has been the hottest on record, and greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing the heating, continue to grow.
The COP presidency is no ceremonial role. It is that person’s job not just to set key goals for the meeting, but to drive often reluctant negotiators to accept and finally unanimously endorse increasingly ambitious climate reforms and targets.
Given his role as chief of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Jaber’s appointment to lead this year’s climate talks was greeted with suspicion on some quarters of the climate movement. For some, the worst of those suspicions were confirmed this week when the BBC published an investigation based on leaked documents showing the UAE planned to use the summit to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations.
Only moments before his buggy jaunt through the nearly 4.5 square-kilometre expo site, Jaber addressed the revelations while holding court with select media in an indoor garden alongside UN climate chief Simon Stiell.
The press event was styled off a traditional Emirati majlis, a round room format long employed by elders and sheikhs to foster dialogue, honesty and openness.
For an oil boss who has spent the better part of a year fending off accusations that he is unable to take a neutral stance in leading the world to stop climate change in its tracks, what better setting?
“Please, for once, respect who we are, respect what we have achieved over the years,” he pleaded. “And respect the fact that we have been clear, open and clean and honest and transparent on how we’re going to conduct this process.”
This was his first public response to the media investigation. “False, not true, incorrect,” a defiant Jaber bellowed.
While Jaber’s roles may seem incongruous, colleagues say his experience as an industry executive is the shake-up the COP process needs.
“For the first time, we have a CEO as a COP president,” argues COP28 director-general ambassador Majid al-Suwaidi.
“We have a person who is action oriented, who’s results oriented, and he’s been very clear about the demands that he’s making of the oil and gas sector and what they need to deliver.”
”We know that we’re not on track to achieve the goals of Paris. We know, in fact, that we’re way off track … so should we continue doing the same thing we were doing and expecting a different result?” Suwaidi says.
When he sits down with this masthead in Abu Dhabi ahead of the summit, Suwaidi is optimistic about the marathon talks that lie ahead.
The COP28 office, which enjoys prime position along Abu Dhabi’s seaside boardwalk – called the Corniche – it sits next door to ADNOC’s head distribution office, a few kilometres along the waterfront from the oil company’s imposing headquarters, a 342-metre solid block that keeps watch over the Arabian Gulf.
It’s a Wednesday in late November and the UAE capital is abuzz. The suffocating summer heat has finally passed and hotels are filling up with Formula One fanatics streaming in for the start of the weekend’s annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Now all eyes are on Dubai, welcoming upwards of 90,000 registered world leaders, industry bosses, NGOs and activists to mark the conclusion of the first global stocktake of climate commitments baked into the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Despite the Paris Agreement lofty goal of 1.5 degrees, and huge efforts to transition from fossil fuels by some nations, it is now estimated that the world has already warmed by more than 1.1 degrees. Meanwhile, more than $US1 trillion in new funding was invested in fossil fuels.
Despite all this, Suwaidi argues that Jaber’s oil ties should be seen as a help rather than a hindrance.
Jaber himself insists that no presidency before him has ever been able to corral a significant number of oil and gas companies to align around net-zero by 2050 targets.
Suwaidi, who – like Jaber – has spent the better part of 2023 engaging in round-the-world shuttle diplomacy to prepare for COP, maintains the president’s CV speaks for itself, not least his heading up of the UAE’s renewable energy vehicle Masdar in 2006.
“He’s been single-handed in developing the UAE’s renewable energy economy,” Suwaidi says.
“He’s the most qualified person we have. We could have chosen anybody, but he’s the most qualified. And then people also forget why he was made CEO of our national oil company. He wasn’t a natural choice.
“He was made the CEO of our national oil company with a mandate to do three things: decarbonise the company, prepare the company for the future, and to transform the company so that it can be ready for that future.”
As delegates and activists streamed into the event this week, most couldn’t help but pose for photos beneath the dramatic, steel trellis Al Wasl dome on site, an ambitious 75-metre structure built for Dubai Expo in 2020.
But, Stiell, the UN’s climate chief warned COP28 cannot be just a photo-op:
“Leaders must deliver – the message is clear.
“And as leaders leave Dubai after the opening summit, their message to their negotiators must be equally clear: don’t come home without a deal that will make a real difference.”
The Antarctic is waking up, and the world must wake up.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, making a brief Antarctic visit before COP, was even more pointed.
Referring to the shrinking of ice coverage due to rapid warming he says, “We are witnessing an acceleration that is absolutely devastating.
“The Antarctic is waking up, and the world must wake up.”
Guterres says Jaber had a “bigger responsibility” to drive the fossil fuel industry to ramp up clean energy investments.
“He needs to be able to explain to all those that are responsible in the fossil fuel industry, and especially to the oil and gas industry that is making obscene profits all over the world, that this is the moment to use those profits instead of doubling down on fossil fuels,” Guterres says.
Independent of whether the fossil fuel sector embraces a transition, the climate movement has begun working around it by shifting emphasis to the rapid deployment of renewables.
Over the past decade wind, solar and battery technology has rapidly improved and the capacity to build and deploy it rapidly expanded.
In May, in a speech at the opening of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, a meeting of climate diplomats in Berlin, Jaber signalled that at this COP he would be calling for agreements to ramp up global renewable capacity.
“We will accelerate delivery in sectors like renewables that must triple capacity by 2030 and double it again by 2040,” he said.
He has repeated that call in economic forums such as the G7 and G20. Earlier this month, it was reported that more than 60 countries – backed by the US, the EU and the UAE – had agreed to push for the target to be included in any final declaration made by the COP.
The goal is ambitious, but according to a report by the independent public interest think tank Climate Energy Finance (CEF), the scaling up of the sector is already underway.
China is installing the equivalent of Australia’s east coast grid in renewables alone, every three months.Credit: AP
In 2020 China set a target of deploying 1200 gigawatts of wind and solar by 2030. (For comparison’s sake, the total capacity of Australia’s grid is 71 gigawatts.) It is now set to reach that target in 2024, six years early. Its annual deployment has doubled this year after leaping by 50 per cent last year. It is installing the equivalent of Australia’s east coast grid in renewables alone, every three months, says the CEF’s director, Tim Buckley.
He says China is already on track to meet the 2030 goal. Meanwhile, due to its huge investment in factories, the cost of the solar modules it exports has fallen by 40 per cent this year. It is possible, according to the report, that China’s emissions could also begin to fall in 2024, also six years before expected.
India has not signalled its position in the international tripling goal, but its own domestic target of installing 450 gigawatts by 2030 is in line with the international target.
In the US, the Biden administration’s blockbuster Inflation Reduction Act, which pumped half a trillion dollars of tax breaks and other incentives into the green industries has turbocharged the sector. By one estimate, it could spark $4.5 trillion in climate investment over the coming decade.
Before his departure to COP28, Australian Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced an increase in spending on grid-scale renewable energy under a program to be known as the Capacity Investment Scheme. The scheme will funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to underwriting renewable energy projects to raise the share of clean electricity generation from about 35 per cent of the grid to 82 per cent by the end of the decade.
The scheme combined with increases in domestic and commercial solar, the CEF’s Buckley believes it may enable Bowen to announce at the talks that Australia too will triple its deployment of renewables.
None of this leaves Australia – or the world – on track to limit emissions to 1.5 degrees.
On Thursday Bowen formally responded in parliament to the annual Climate Change Statement, showing Australia was on track to cut greenhouse emissions by 42 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – just shy of Labor’s 43 per cent target. This is an improvement on last year’s projections which had Australia tracking for a 40 per cent reduction.
Even if met, Australia’s target is in line with the world breaching 2 degrees.
Clearly more needs to be done.
In his opening remarks to COP28 delegates on Thursday, the UN’s climate boss called for unprecedented ambition in a year when so many records were broken.
The urgency to commit to a new energy system was greater than ever, Stiell said, because the world could no longer afford to maintain the status quo.
“If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline. And we choose to pay with people’s lives.”
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