The United Nations climate change conference in Dubai is on the verge of a significant breakthrough in addressing the emissions contributing to global warming, according to the hosts, the United Arab Emirates.

With “cautious optimism,” the UAE’s negotiating team anticipates that COP28 is moving towards a commitment to gradually phase out fossil fuels in the coming decades, possibly even abandoning them entirely.

Hosting a climate conference in an oil-rich nation might seem ironic, but there are indications that substantial progress on climate action could emerge from this unlikely setting.

While the notion of eliminating fossil fuels might align with the conference’s core purpose, it’s worth noting that until recently, discussions around these vital issues were somewhat muted in previous global gatherings.

The turning point occurred at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, where the first formal debate on the future of fossil fuels took place.

The only commitment made then was a pledge to “phase down” the use of the dirtiest among them, coal.

The current expectation is not a complete cessation of fossil fuel usage; instead, the emphasis is likely to be on acknowledging the need to address the primary source of climate change.

Surprisingly, the UAE, built on the wealth of oil, is pushing for a phase-out, as indicated in the current text under discussion.
Sultan al-Jaber, the president of COP28 and head of the UAE state oil company Adnoc, expresses his desire for this shift, albeit in bureaucratic language that may not have garnered widespread attention.

Despite the potential conflict of interest, Mr. Jaber insists that this summit will take an unprecedented and transformative path.

Recent reports about him questioning the science of global warming were clarified, with Mr. Jaber asserting that he has consistently championed the phase-down and phase-out of fossil fuels as an inevitable course of action.

To achieve the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, COP28 recognizes the necessity of eliminating unabated coal by 2050 and substantial reductions in oil and natural gas.

Over 100 countries, including major players like the US and the EU, have expressed support for a fossil fuel phase-out.

Even China, traditionally cautious on this front, hinted at a shift in position during recent talks with the US. Russia, known for a transactional approach to climate pledges, might also be inclined to support the move, given its pragmatic stance.

However, the biggest hurdle lies in Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest producer of oil and gas.

While the Saudi Energy Minister has categorically opposed a promise to phase down fossil fuels, indications suggest

that the state oil giant, Aramco, supports such a move to enhance the country’s global reputation and facilitate international business.

As COP28 unfolds, all eyes are on Dubai, where a potentially historic decision on fossil fuels could reshape the world’s approach to combating climate change.

Last Updated: 06 December 2023