Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Should oil-rich countries host COP summits?

Will phasing out fossil fuels take us back to living in caves.

Last month’s COP28 summit was hosted by the United Arab Emirates – an oil rich nation in the Middle East which experienced a meteoric rise since gaining independence from Britain in 1971. The UAE contains almost 10% of the world’s oil reserves, making them an international player to be taken seriously. 

COP28 was an opportunity for the UAE to showcase its ability to placate nations with vastly different agendas to build consensus on climate action. However, in the run up to COP, this sense of promise was marred by a series of revelations. 

Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), was first announced President of COP28. Jaber said that his knowledge of the energy business was an advantage to the role. While oil companies do need to be included and brought on side to enable the green transition, it seems that this is not high on Al Jaber’s list of priorities. The point at which climate change becomes irreversible is 1.5 degrees – to have even a chance to stay within this threshold global emissions must be halved by 2030 and drop to net zero by 2050. This was the consensus of COP21 and the principle policy within the 2015 Paris Agreement to which 196 countries signed. 

Al Jaber does not seem to be on board with this programme of action, stating that there is “no science” demonstrating the need to phase out fossil fuels. The UAE’s official position is that it plans to extract its very last barrel of oil 50 years from now, when the reserves are predicted to dry up, long after scientists say we need to be done with fossil fuels. Al Jaber has also said that a phase-out would mean “taking the world back into caves“. 

ADNOC is planning a big phase-up of oil and gas production looking to expand its extraction globally. The UAE’s COP28 team arranged a series of ministerial meetings with governments from around the world. Leaked documents showed various talking points including a meeting with China which states that ADNOC is willing to “jointly evaluate” Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) opportunities in Mozambique, Canada and Australia. LNG is made up primarily of Methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2. Al Jaber has withdrawn his comments on living in caves, saying that they were “misinterpreted”. He asked to be judged on what he delivered at the end of COP: so what are the outcomes? 

COP28 delivered a “historic” consensus, which contains no mention of “carbon emissions” within its 49 pages. However, there were some benefits of the climate summit. A number of new multi-billion dollar funds including an increase of $9 billion annually from the World Bank to finance climate-related projects were announced. A number of pledges were also made targeting mitigation of climate impacts with extra budgets dedicated to developing countries in the form of the Loss and Damage Funds.The trend of oil rich nations hosting climate negotiations continues, with Azerbaijan announced as the host of COP29. While there was a clear conflict of interest at COP28, whether this has totally undermined and negated the impact of achievements, only time will tell. The exploitation of the occasion for governments own destructive gain could become a trend at future summits – but not necessarily. Undeniably there have been positive outcomes of COP28; we can only hope that Azerbaijan will continue to build towards creating a greener and more equitable future, without ulterior motives.

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