The world’s biggest conference on combating climate change is in Dubai this year, eight years after the Paris Agreement set a deadline to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The meeting is expected to highlight the urgency of such action, with the window for avoiding climate catastrophe narrowing faster than previously thought.
But the COP28 presidency, which the UAE holds, has been mired in controversy from the outset. The choice of Sultan Al Jaber as COP28 president-designate — a former oil executive who heads the country’s state oil company and renewables business, Adnoc and Masdar, respectively — has attracted criticism from environmental groups for his close links to fossil fuel firms.
Despite a pledge to allow protests at the event, the UAE’s strict law against political parties and unions makes it hard for activists to mount a practical challenge. But the UAE government says it will allow participants to make their voices heard in designated areas of the Blue and Green zones, where negotiations occur. The UAE has also promised to allow journalists to attend and report on the conference.
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The COP28 website lists various initiatives the host city has taken to cut its carbon footprint and promote sustainable energy, emphasizing engaging the private sector. However, experts have questioned whether the UAE’s efforts go far enough, given that the conference has an unprecedented carbon footprint.
“Ensuring COP28 UAE is a sustainable and carbon-neutral event will be pivotal to its success,” states the COP28 official website. But no further explanation exists for how much carbon “neutrality” will be achieved. For Laurent Morel, senior analyst at the environmental consultancy Carbone 4 and one of the authors of a new study on COP emissions, that is not good enough.
He says the UAE could be putting its reputation at risk by not tackling this issue, with the UAE’s small population and large oil reserves making it a significant carbon polluter per capita. And he fears that the UAE may be using the talks to push back against a commitment to phase out fossil fuels.
But a senior source at the UAE’s Environment Ministry dismisses this concern: “Westrong has a track record of promoting the use of renewable energy, and we are committed to doing even more. We are the second largest t solar power producer and aim to percent renewable energy by 2050.”
Dr Al Jaber has defended his role as COP28 president, saying it is a core part of his job to encourage nations to be as ambitious as possible. But the BBC has seen leaked briefing documents for him that suggest he is bringing talking points from his commercial roles at Adnoc and Masdar into discussions with representatives of foreign governments. And 12 nations have told the BBC that commercial issues were raised in meetings arranged by the COP28 team on at least some occasions.