In December last year, the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held at Expo City, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The climate conference, which brought together leading representatives from almost 200 nations, is considered a key barometer for the political willpower around climate change and the energy transition.
The conference was mired with controversies from the start, including low expectations that the host nation would be able to deliver a deal that took aim at the fossil fuel industry despite being one of the world's top 10 oil-producing nations. The choice of COP28 president, Sultan al-Jaber, attracted further criticism due to his role as CEO of Abu Dhabi oil giant Adnoc. And this concern was amplified by leaked documents suggesting that the UAE planned to use its role as COP28 host to strike new oil and gas deals.
However, despite this, COP28 surprised many, with the final treaty agreeing upon the need to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems” - the first time that a COP treaty has taken explicit aim at the term “fossil fuels” since talks began. Whist not going so far as to commit to the “phase out” of fossil fuels that many groups - including the US, UK, EU and some of the nations which are most vulnerable to climate change - had wanted, it demonstrates a shift in attitude of what participating nations could agree to.
The APPG for the Polar Regions attended the conference and here are a few of our Director, Jamie Anderson’s, key takeaways from Dubai.
Shiny, sobering and dusty.
Flying into Dubai for the first time and being overwhelmed by the scale of the city, its location, its shininess, and the energy it must take to keep it functioning.
Having always consciously avoided Dubai, I was feeling pretty low before bumping into a delegation from the Amazonian Pankararu tribe in Arrivals. It shook me out of my pessimistic funk. Seeing the headdresses and tattoos amongst the baggage carousels, chatting to the group about their hopes for the conference reminded me of the point of COP.
That its impact went beyond this desert playground and that its always better to be bringing people together to try and solve a problem than sulking because you don’t agree with the location or the Government hosting it.
I would like to see much more focus on the Polar Regions. Although some countries, such as Canada had indigenous delegations and the Inuit Circumpolar Council were represented the Arctic region was rarely referenced. And although many countries liked using photos of icebergs, Antarctica barley featured. Understandably the Arctic has a very small population and is spread across eight Nations. However the Alliance of Small Nation States shows that, by giving a focal point for discussions on a region, you can have a big impact.
I would like to see a dedicated space focussed on the polar regions at COP 29, especially considering that December temperatures in Azerbaijan are positively polar.
I have always liked the idea of having a stocktake. It’s vital to be able to judge the world’s climate trajectory on more than just the opinions of the current crop of politicians.
Much like having told your parents that you have had a super year at school but when your data and evidenced based school report card arrives saying:
Great job this year.
Mostly tried hard.
Needs to stop messing around and concentrate.
It’s time to look for a new playground.
It gives a measurable level of truth that even your parents can’t ignore.
One of the key difficulties I have always had at large scale conferences and Summits is the lack of actual “stuff” that is discussed. Solid commitments based around funded projects with timelines and measurable, timebound impacts. It’s great to say what you think the right direction is - but give me solid examples of what, when and how you are going to achieve it. I was really pleased with the UK’s commitment of £11billion for the Dogger Bank offshore wind project. A public commitment to a project, with a figure and timeframe attached.
I think the GST is good for that reason. It’s a set of actual figures. How have we actually done against our targets. Clearly, it’s a minefield, but when those at the pointy end of climate impact such as the Alliance of Small Island States call it a “lifeline” then it has to have value.
I don’t think that GST will immediately change the direction of global business. If we have seen anything from the last two years, it’s that business direction and public opinion is still based entirely around financial gain and cost. The increase in energy prices post-Ukraine changed the direction of oil and gas companies and their focus on an energy transition almost overnight. They simply couldn’t resist the huge profits, and we, the public, couldn’t deal with the enormous increase in energy costs. So it went unchallenged.
I do think that GST will drive Governments to push for more renewable energy in the longer term. Those countries looking for the energy stability that renewables can offer as the global geopolitical situation becomes more fractious will keep the transition moving, continuing to drive down the costs of production and installation until renewables are the more profitable alternative to all but the most accessible fossil fuels.
The UAE and the Oil and Gas companies played a blinder at COP28. I was always sceptical about Dubai and could never get past the idea of the CEO of one of the largest oil companies in world being President. The “fox overseeing the hen house”, as one journalist put it.
Starting the conference by announcing the compensation fund was a great way to detract attention and then to submit a significantly watered down first treaty draft, leading to a final draft filled with ‘concessions’ including directly referencing fossil fuels meant it looked like progress.
With global oil demand in 2023 higher than at any time in human-history; many delegations not consulted on the final draft; and ambiguous language - I think this treaty will do the job it was always intended to do. Delay the energy transition.