The President of COP28, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, an oil tycoon who intends for his company to increase production by 42 per cent by 2030, set the tone for the event when he claimed “no science” exists proving that phasing out fossil fuels would limit the climate crisis.
COP28 has been hailed in some quarters as being the first COP agreement which explicitly refers to fossil fuels needing to be phased out. However, the language in the agreement itself, which states the need to be “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”, means that the goal of oil interests of the avoidance of the phasing out of fossil fuels has been preserved for the foreseeable future.
Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, said that there was a “slightly positive” feeling at COP28, and Tánaiste Micheál Martin TD announced €50 million in climate-related finance from Ireland for poorer and less developed countries with half of that money to be delivered between 2025 and 2027, which includes just over €6 million to support a partnership strategy for small island development. However, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Simon Steill, warned of “alarmingly slow” progress in phasing out fossil fuels.
COP28 was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from 30 November to 12 December 2023. Al-Jaber, the Director-General and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), also got involved in a dispute with former Uachtarán na hÉireann Mary Robinson when he said that he was “not in any way signing up to a discussion that is alarmist”.
Robinson, the President of Ireland between 1990 and 1997, told Al-Jaber that the world is in “an absolute crisis that is hurting women more than anyone, women and children, the elderly, and those with disability and those most vulnerable”.
She also said to Al-Jaber that the climate crisis exists “because we have not yet committed to phasing out fossil fuel. That is the one decision that COP28 can take under your presidency”.
Robinson then implied a conflict of interest for Al-Jaber, who whilst being head of the ADNOC, is also the United Arab Emirates’ Climate Envoy.
“Because you are head of the Abu Dhabi national oil company, you could actually take it with more credibility by saying ‘I now recognise we have to phase out fossil fuel with just transition for the workers and their communities, and just transition into renewable, accessible, affordable and clean energy’,” said Robinson.
Robinson made the case that the United Arab Emirates was using its position as an oil economy to try and slow the energy transition required to adhere to the 1.5oC limit outlined in the Paris Agreement. “I read that your company is investing in a lot more fossil fuel in the future,” she said.
Responding to the former Irish President, Al-Jaber said: “I do not think Mary [Robinson] will be able to help solve the climate problem by pointing fingers or contributing to the polarisation and the divide that is already happening in the world.”
A spokesperson for COP28 described the coverage of the exchange between former President Robinson and Al-Jaber as “another attempt to undermine the [COP] presidency’s agenda”.
Although in Paris in 2015, countries agreed to work to ensure that the rise in global temperatures is limited to 2oC or lower, preferably 1.5oC, the United Nations warned in November 2023 that the planet is on track for a “catastrophic” rise in temperatures of 2.9oC, exemplifying the need for progress at COP events.