Cop28 host UAE tried to weaken global shipping’s climate ambition

Campaigners said the UAE’s opposition to zero emissions by 2050 was “alarming” given the country will host Cop28 climate talks in December

A container ship calls at a port in New Zealand (Photo: Bernard Spragg/Flickr)


The United Arab Emirates tried to weaken global shipping’s climate target last week, sparking fears that it will lack ambition as host of the Cop28 climate summit.

According to four sources in the room, the UAE was one of around a dozen countries which argued against more ambitious climate targets at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) last week.

Their representative to the IMO Mohamed Khamis Saeed AlKaabi joined nations like China, India and Brazil in opposing a 2050 zero emissions target and pushing for the target to be to “aim for net zero, preferably by mid-century, and to phase-out emissions before the end of the century”. He also opposed setting interim targets for 2030 and 2040.

A spokesperson for the UAE’s Cop28 presidency told Climate Home that IMO negotiations were outside of their scope but “the Cop28 UAE presidency sees a substantial and important role for industries, including shipping, to deliver action to keep 1.5 alive”.

In a seeming rebuke to their negotiator’s oppostion to a 2030 target, the spokesperson added that the Cop28 presidency echoes the IPCC scientists’ finding that carbon emissions must fall 43% between 2019 and 2030.

A big emitter

The ships that carry goods and people around the world burn large amounts of dirty fuel. The industry is responsible for 3% of global emissions. If it was a nation, it would be the fifth most polluting in the world, ahead of Japan.

Like international air travel, international shipping is not mentioned in the Paris Agreement and is not covered by most countries’ climate plans.

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A broad group of countries, led by climate vulnerable Pacific nations, has called for the industry to set a zero emissions by 2050 target at its next marine environment protection committee meeting in July.

But a group, mainly made up of big emerging economies opposed this at the last meeting in December, arguing that clean fuels are technologically unproven and are likely to cost more and those costs will be passed on to consumers.

Leading the opposition

Last week, intersessional talks were held at the headquarters of the IMO, the UN’s shipping arm, on the banks of the river Thames in London. Journalists were unable to watch proceedings but campaigners and other observers were allowed in the room.

John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition, was among them. He said the UAE repeatedly emphasised the “end of the century” part of their proposed net zero target. “It was ‘their baby'”, he said, “they took the floor early on to state this and when the languaage disappeared form the draft they took the floor to support it going back in.”

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Three other observers said the UAE was among the group opposing zero emissions by 2050 and pushing for a weaker target. One was Faig Abbasov, shipping lead at the Transport and Environment NGO, who added that the UAE also opposed adding new 2030 and 2040 targets.

Abbasov said the UAE’s stance was “baffling given the country hosts Cop28 later this year”. He added: “If the UAE does not align itself with this goal, including for shipping, then COP28 risks being an official “climate oilwashing” event.”

Aoife O’Leary, CEO of Opportunity Green, also watched proceedings. She told Climate Home: “It is alarming to witness the upcoming Cop President, UAE, being one of the leading voices for lower ambition at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) meetings”.

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UAE command respect

Another observer, who did not want to be named, said that, while the UAE has “excellent potential” to bring climate leadership into the IMO, “there were no signs of that at [the intersessional talks last week], instead they were working against those calling for progress.”

O’Leary and the Clean Shipping Coalition both compiled lists of which countries opposed the net zero by 2050 target. Since there was no voting, they judged on comments and formal submissions, so the lists differ slightly. But both feature China, India, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

The Clean Shipping Coalition’s list of countries which voiced support for zero emissions by 2050 last week includes several Pacific island nations, most European governments, the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Japan and the Bahamas. Most also voiced support for 2030 and 2040 targets.

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