COP28 president: Why I am pushing for less emissions

United Arab Emirates' minister of state and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, addresses the opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) in the Emirati capital in this file photo taken on November 11, 2019.

Photo credit: Photo by AFP

What you need to know:

  • COP28 is a milestone opportunity for the world to come together
  • COP28 will aim to double financing for adaptation – reaching $40 billion annually
  • The global energy transition will be front and centre at COP28

The president-designate of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), Dr Sultan Al-Jaber, had an exclusive interview with Healthy Nation’s LEON LIDIGU ahead of this year’s world biggest climate meet that will be held at Expo City, Dubai, from November 30 to December 12.  He noted that financial reform is at the top of his agenda. He also discussed what he and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are doing to address the climate issues Africa is grappling with, what needs to be done and what the world should expect as it battles the climate crisis while hoping to realise a fossil fuel-free future.

How do you, as the COP28 president-designate, respond to concerns that having an oil CEO at the helm of the talks will thwart any attempts to push for an oil-free future?

I’m glad you asked me this question because I think there are some misconceptions about who I am, what I bring to the table, and the full range of my experience across the energy value chain.
I have a career that spans more than 20 years across the renewable energy and traditional energy sectors and I’ve been involved in climate diplomacy for over a decade. I’ve attended 11 COPs, and I’ve led the UAE’s engagement, including at COP21 where the Paris Agreement was forged.

My first chief executive role was to establish Masdar, which is one of the largest investors in renewable energy in the world, with projects on six continents, in over 40 countries, and aiming for a 100-gigawatt portfolio in the next seven years. I was CEO for 11 years, and I am still the chairman today.

In 2016, I was tasked by the leadership of the UAE to take on the role of CEO of Adnoc (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) with a very clear mandate: to transform, decarbonise and future -proof Adnoc. That is why today, Adnoc is a first mover in hydrogen. It is decarbonising its operations through nuclear and solar and investing significantly in renewables. And Adnoc is a shareholder in the company I helped found — Masdar.

What are your priorities as COP28 president?

COP28 is a milestone opportunity for the world to come together, course-correct, and drive progress.
The COP28 presidency will lead the world’s response to the global stocktake and deliver a plan of action that is inclusive, ambitious, and bold. Our priorities include a just energy transition; better and more equitable access to sufficient climate finance, including the reform of international financial institutions; and the need to support those most vulnerable through adaptation and support for loss and damage.

The fact is that we are off-track in our efforts to meet the Paris goal of keeping global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees above pre -industrial levels. We need a major course correction and a massive effort to reignite progress. We need to shift from incremental steps to transformational progress across each of the pillars of climate action: mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and finance.

To that end, a key goal for COP28 will be to drive momentum on mitigation and to accelerate the effort to slash emissions by 43 percent. This requires concerted efforts across all sectors from all countries, businesses, and stakeholders. Key, high-emitting areas to be addressed include land and food use systems, energy and high -emitting industries such as cement and aluminium.

The global energy transition will be front and centre at COP28, with a concerted push to triple renewable energy capacity, double hydrogen, and accelerate efforts to decarbonise industry. Key to this will be the full engagement with the private sector, who must go further and faster to deliver results.

As part of our push to support vulnerable countries and build resilience, COP28 will aim to double financing for adaptation – reaching $40 billion annually – and will embrace nature-based solutions, such as reforestation and ecosystem protection.

COP28 will also conclude the Global Goal on Adaptation, and we are committed to operationalising the fund for loss and damage. These two deliverables will drive enhanced support to those countries most affected, predominantly in the global south.

What are the COP28 plans around increasing political momentum to operationalise the loss and damage fund?

As you may know, COP27 established a transitional committee on the operationalisation of the loss and damage arrangements. The committee has 14 members from developing countries, including three from Africa. The committee is working to assess the current policy and institutional landscape, and identify and take action to address gaps.

Reform of international financial institutions and multilateral development banks is fundamental to unlock greater financial support for loss and damage financing for the climate vulnerable.

I truly hope that all partners in this conversation do everything they can so this discussion does not enter a prolonged negotiation and implementation phase. I am looking forward to finding a practical and actionable consensus in the committee. I am sure everyone agrees that the most vulnerable need a fairer slice of the pie.

Is there support from the COP28 presidency to unlock investments for renewable energy in Africa? As it stands, Africa needs $133 billion every year in clean energy investment to meet its energy and climate goals between 2026 and 2030.

Current investment in renewable energy on the continent is a drop in the ocean, at only $9.4 billion per year. According to Irena (International Renewable Energy Agency), only two percent of global investments in renewable energy in the last two decades were made in Africa.

There are 58 countries in Africa with a total of more than 1.3 billion people that account for only four percent of global emissions yet suffer the worst effects of climate change. We need to make sure that investment reaches the people and places that need it the most.

The UAE has committed to support a number of African nations in their energy transition through the Etihad 7 initiative, a UAE-led programme that aims to raise public and private sector funds to invest in the development of Africa’s renewable energy sector, with a goal of achieving a 20-gigawatt capacity to supply 100 million people across the continent with clean electricity by 2035.

There are those that think the COP presidency structure should be changed to include women in the sense that the presidency should be co-shared between a man and a woman as opposed to always having men at the helm. Do you agree?

I am proud to say that we have more women than men in our leadership structure. I would also point out that our COP28 team is 60 percent women with many of our most senior roles occupied by women.