COP28: Fossil Fuel Hub Takes Green Turn

"The Paris Agreement's aspirations are overshadowed by a bleak reality: even with full implementation of current NDCs, the world is projected to warm by 3.2°C by 2100"

COP28: Fossil Fuel Hub Takes Green Turn

Dubai, nestled in the Arab world, exudes opulence and grandeur but is at a critical juncture. The rise to global prominence, fueled by fossil fuels, contradicts the impending threat of climate change. The UAE government's hosting of COP28 showcases its pivotal role in the climate summit. This significant gathering represents a crucial moment, highlighting the city's mix of progress and environmental issues. It's where world leaders meet, shaping the future of our planet. The convergence of these factors prompts self-reflection on the emergence of this juxtaposition and its implications for global climate efforts and the imperative shift to sustainability.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivered a stark message regarding the deteriorating state of climate change, asserting that "The era of global warming has drawn to a close; we now stand amidst the era of global boiling”. He urged world leaders to act swiftly and ambitiously, stressing the critical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cap the planet’s temperature rise at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This aligns with the commitments outlined in the Paris Agreement, a landmark accord signed by 195 nations in 2015. The Paris Agreement holds the shared goal of restraining global temperature escalation below 2°C. Moreover, it endeavours to achieve an even more delicate threshold, striving to limit the rise to 1.5°C by the end of this century. 

The Paris Agreement's aspirations are overshadowed by a bleak reality. Even with full implementation of current NDCs, the world is projected to warm by 3.2°C by 2100, as warned by the UN Environment Programme's last year report. Devastating consequences for the environment, economy, and society would include more extreme weather events, sea level rise, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, poverty, displacement, and conflict. To avoid this scenario, the report calls for a drastic reduction of emissions by 7.6% per year from 2020 to 2030. This audacious endeavour, bearing a 66% chance, stands as our slender hope to secure the 1.5°C limit, a linchpin in safeguarding a future for us all.

The UAE is one of the largest exporter and consumer of fossil fuels, that is the main cause of climate change. However, the UAE is also a country that is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, extreme heat, water scarcity, and desertification. Therefore, the UAE has a strong interest and incentive to address the climate challenge and to diversify its economy away from oil and gas dependence. To demonstrate its commitment and leadership on climate action and green transition, the UAE has taken various steps and initiatives. For example, the UAE was the first country in the region to ratify the Paris Agreement and to submit its nationally determined contribution (NDC), which aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 23.5% by 2030 compared to the business-as-usual scenario. The UAE has also invested heavily in renewable energy projects, such as the world’s largest solar park, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which has a planned capacity of 5,000 megawatts by 2030. The UAE has also hosted several international events and platforms to promote dialogue and cooperation on climate and sustainability issues, such as the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the World Future Energy Summit, and the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting.

The COP28 in Dubai will be a critical moment for the world to take decisive and collective action on climate change. It will mark the conclusion of the first Global Stocktake, a comprehensive assessment of the progress made in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. It will also be the deadline for the countries to submit their updated and enhanced NDCs, which are expected to align with the 1.5°C goal. The COP28 will also finalise the rules and guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, especially on the issues of transparency, finance, adaptation, and market mechanisms. The COP28 will also mobilise and scale up the financial and technical support for the developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change and to transition to low-carbon development. 

Hosting COP28 in Dubai, a major fossil fuel hub, presents both challenges and opportunities for the UAE and the world. On one hand, it could raise questions and criticisms about the credibility and sincerity of the UAE’s climate action and green transition, especially from the civil society, the scientific community, and the vulnerable countries that are most affected by climate change. On the other hand, it could also provide a unique platform and opportunity for the UAE and other countries in the region to showcase their climate leadership and innovation, and to accelerate their transition to a low-carbon and resilient development. It could also foster greater engagement and collaboration among the diverse stakeholders, such as governments, businesses, cities, regions, and youth, to enhance their climate action and ambition. 

The COP28 in Dubai will have significant outcomes and impacts on the global climate agenda and the Paris Agreement. It will determine whether the world is on track to meet the 1.5°C goal, or whether it is heading towards a catastrophic scenario of 3.2°C or more. It will also shape the future of the global cooperation and solidarity on climate action, and the role and responsibility of the different actors and stakeholders. The COP28 in Dubai will be a test of the UAE’s and the world’s resolve and ability to overcome the climate crisis and to pursue a green and sustainable future.

The writer is a development practitioner, currently affiliated with a Germany-based organisation Welthungerhilfe (WHH)