A key minister from the country hosting the next Cop climate talks has called for the “phase out” of oil and gas.
Governments failed to agree on this wording at previous climate talks and this phrase is likely to divide nations at the Cop28 summit in Dubai in November.
The UAE’s environment minister Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri told the Munich Security Conference: “We need the oil and gas sector to be with us. We need to shift the way they are doing business and we need to decarbonise what they are doing. We need to then phase out oil and gas in a just way.”
A Cop battle line
At the Cop26 climate talks in 2021, all governments agreed to commit to a “phase down” of coal. This was the first time a fossil fuel had been mentioned in a Cop decision.
At the next year’s talks in Egypt, a broad coalition of nations including India, rich nations and vulnerable islands pushed for an agreement to phase out fossil fuels, which would include oil and gas as well as coal.
But a handful of oil and gas producers opposed that language, the hosts Egypt did not include it in the final text and the coalition pushing for it eventually decided not to block the agreement over the issue.
The battle is set to continue at Cop28. While hosts are supposed to be neutral, they have a lot of power over which requests from governments make it into the Cop draft decisions.
At Cop27, the UAE was quiet on the fossil fuel issue. The resistance to criticism of fossil fuels was led by Saudi Arabia whose lead negotiator Albara Tawfiq told the plenary that the UN climate convention “needs to address emissions and not the origins of the emissions”.
Saudi Arabia officially spoke on behalf of the Arab Group at the talks – a coalition of 22 nations across the Middle East and North Africa which includes the UAE. But the extent to which each member of the group supports the Saudi position is unclear.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told Climate Home in December that Cop28 “might force them to break cover”.
The UAE’s hosting of this year’s climate talks has come under heavy criticism following the appointment as its boss of Sultan al-Jaber, the head of state oil giant Adnoc.
Campaigners said his appointment sent the wrong signal and that the fossil fuel industry was hijacking the world’s response to the global warming crisis.
Responding to the criticism, minister Almheiri said al-Jaber had been placed in Adnoc to change the company and guide it throughout the energy transition.
“We’re always going to be an energy exporter, but the type of energy we export is changing already and will change in the future,” she said.
Experts around table
Sultan al-Jaber himself took to the stage at the Munich Security Conference on a panel discussion with US Climate envoy John Kerry.
The Cop28 boss said the UAE would focus on promoting an “inclusive” climate agenda, which does not exclude fossil fuel players.
“When you talk about energy transition please include the energy experts,” said al-Jaber. “Don’t think you are going to come up with solutions without the experts around the table.”
Al-Jaber was keen to highlight the UAE’s push for renewable energy happening under his watch. On top of his Cop28 and fossil fuel jobs, al-Jaber is the chairman of Masdar, the UAE’s renewable energy company.
Thanks to its abundance of sunshine, the UAE boasts some of the world’s cheapest solar power. The government expects to have installed more than 9GW of solar capacity by 2030, tripling current levels.
The UAE was the first country in the region to set a 2050 net zero goal. And at Cop27, it became the first to announce absolute emission cuts, instead of from a hypothetical business-as-usual baseline.
Pragmatism and balance
But, in an address sprinkled with repeated appeals for “pragmatism” and “balance”, Al-Jaber also reiterated the UAE’s resolve on the need for continued investment in oil and gas in the short term.
“Transitions usually take time. Any successful transitional is built on a practical, not emotional roadmap,” he told the audience in Munich. “We need to adopt a diversified energy mix approach.”
Adnoc, the oil and gas company presided over by al-Jaber, plans to boost investment by $150 billion over the next five years. The funding will also speed up an increase in oil and gas production capacity.
The International Energy Agency said in 2021 that new fossil fuel investments are incompatible with limiting global warming to 1.5C.