The Guardian view on betting the planet: a big oil producer presiding over Cop28 is a risk | Editorial
In 2021, a significant event occurred in Glasgow when the term “fossil fuels” was included in the Cop26 declaration. This marked the first instance of their mention in a Cop agreement, officially acknowledging their role in the current human-led climate crisis. The passage of two years has been eventful in terms of geopolitics. The upcoming Cop28, starting on Thursday in Dubai, will be led by Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of the state-owned oil company of the United Arab Emirates. This company has the most ambitious plans for expanding fossil fuel production and undermining net-zero efforts globally.
It was already doubtful that Mr Al Jaber was fit to lead global climate negotiations while responsible for planet-wrecking activities. This week’s revelations that he planned to lobby on oil and gas deals during meetings with foreign governments ahead of Cop28 further damage his credibility as an honest broker in climate negotiations. Mr Al Jaber had a hard enough job without hustles making a mockery of his independence.
Despite running the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Mr Al Jaber’s appointment as Cop28’s president-designate was welcomed by the US and the EU, and backed by the G77 bloc of developing countries. Fossil fuel lobbyists have campaigned to torpedo the global climate agenda. There is something to be said for forcing them into the open to account for their actions rather than letting them operate in the shadows.
The international community is not taking sufficient action to prevent global temperatures from rising above the “safe” limit of 1.5C compared to pre-industrial levels. Despite agreeing to decrease “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” at the previous climate summit, these government subsidies reached a record high of $1.7tn in 2022, highlighting the contradiction between Mr. Al Jaber’s profession and his position at Cop28.
In order to meet current climate goals and potentially set new, more ambitious ones, there must be a collective drive in Dubai. Mr. Al Jaber must also work towards reaching an agreement on additional reductions in carbon emissions, compensation for the effects of global warming, and a more equitable system of climate funding for developing countries, which currently relies heavily on expensive loans.
Finding common ground may prove to be challenging. Those in more advanced nations desire for Cop28 to prioritize the gradual elimination of non-renewable energy sources that do not have the capability for carbon dioxide removal, a tactic that is debated for its effectiveness. However, numerous underprivileged countries make a valid argument that depending on untested and costly methods is not only hazardous, but also unfair.
If the developed nations had met the goals outlined in the Kyoto protocol, developing countries claim they would have been able to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while moving away from fossil fuels. However, instead of this happening, five wealthy countries (the US, Canada, Australia, Norway, and the UK) will be responsible for most of the projected increase in new oil and gas developments until 2050.
The Cop28 event presents both a dangerous and promising moment. It has the potential to serve as a necessary reality check and a catalyst for taking more urgent and impactful actions to achieve climate goals. Mr Al Jaber is seeking a mutual agreement where the global south will not hinder or undermine discussions if the global north takes responsibility for their reliance on fossil fuels. The success or failure of Cop28 is of utmost importance for the planet. Mr Al Jaber plays a significant role in its outcome and must be aware that a positive result would be detrimental to the industry he represents. However, his actions thus far have caused more fear than optimism.