Cop28 proved doubters wrong with string of major successes, IEA chief says

Fatih Birol spoke to The National about Cop28, instability in the Middle East, oil prices and outlook for the year

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said Cop28 delivered on many fronts, most notably by securing a commitment to transition away from fossil fuels. Photo: Bloomberg
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Cop28 was a major success that proved the doubters wrong, the head of the International Energy Agency has said at the World Economic Forum.

Speaking to The National at the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Fatih Birol said Cop28 delivered on many fronts, most notably by securing a commitment to transition away from fossil fuels.

Mr Birol, a leading economist who is the IEA’s executive director, also played down suggestions that instability in the Middle East, including Houthi-led attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, will destabilise world oil markets.

“Cop28 provided a remarkable outcome … an important new destination for the world energy system,” he said.

Mr Birol recalled how, the previous January in Davos, he was asked about Dr Sultan Al Jaber becoming Cop28 President given his role in leading Adnoc.

“I was asked what I thought about his role, and I said I wouldn't write off Cop28. I have known him for a long time and we should give him a chance because he wants to deliver something good for all of us … and in the end Cop28 was a successful one. It gave a very strong momentum to clean energy transition.”

We got a lot of things that we wanted to get in order to push the clean energy transition
Fatih Birol, executive director of International Energy Agency

He described the climate conference, held in Dubai's Expo City at the end of last year, as having been “very consequential” and said the UAE Consensus “shifted the climate conversation on the energy transition”.

Aside from the pledge to move away from fossil fuels based on the science, Mr Birol highlighted other outcomes such as commitments to triple global renewable energy capacity, double energy efficiency and to clamp down on the release of methane, which has a warming effect many times that of carbon dioxide for a given level of emissions.

“We got a lot of things that we wanted to get in order to push the clean energy transition,” he said.

Mr Birol also made it clear that the IEA will be joining the UAE in pushing for countries to fulfil the pledges made at Cop28 and took the time to look ahead to Cop29, which will be held in Azerbaijan in November, and Cop30 in Brazil in 2025.

He hopes the climate conference's next iteration will include the finalisation of financial mechanisms to support developing countries in dealing with climate change.

“I am going next week to Brazil to meet President Lula and the ministers to make sure that what we have achieved in Dubai is taken over by the G20,” he said.

John Kerry says Cop28 had ‘one of the strongest outcomes ever’

John Kerry says Cop28 had ‘one of the strongest outcomes ever’

At Cop28 significant progress was made on climate finance, including major pledges for the Green Climate Fund, which was set up through the UN to support developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.

In total, $12.8 billion (Dh47.01 billion) has been pledged to the fund by 31 nations.

On instability in the Middle East, Mr Birol indicated that attacks on shipping in the Red Sea are not hurting oil production, but the impact on transport, with vessels having to take longer journeys, is pushing up costs in a “limited way”.

Prices rose following US-led attacks on Houthi rebels in Yemen this month, but not in a significant manner. Mr Birol thinks markets will stabilise provided a major oil-producing country does not get involved in the tensions.

He explained that “as long as there is no direct involvement of one or more major oil producing countries I expect this year, oil markets will be calm”.

On Thursday, the IEA again raised its oil demand outlook. It now predicts global consumption will rise by 1.24 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2024, representing the third consecutive upwards revision over the past three months, but remains below Opec's 2.25 million bpd projection.

Mr Birol said that “if there were no geopolitical developments, we would see a comfortable year this year, because we see substantial new oil coming from the Americas, the US, Canada, Brazil and Guayana, and when I look at the demand, it is much weaker than last year because the Chinese economy is slowing down. unless there are some geopolitical surprises”.

Mr Birol also concurred that countries in the Middle East are often unfairly criticised more often than other nations for continued high levels of oil production.

“Oil production is up from the Americas, by about 1.5 million barrels a day, meaning [that in] the so-called non-Opec countries and Americas, production is growing faster than global oil demand,” he said.

Mr Birol praised the UAE for diversifying its economy, drawing a contrast with other nations in the region where economic growth and oil prices remain closely linked.

“The UAE did embark on diversification, in many of the other countries there remains an iron link between oil and their economic growth,” he said.

In terms of priorities for this year, high on the list for Mr Birol is reducing the number of highly polluting cookstoves being used in sub-Saharan Africa, an issue he said he is “personally very passionate about”.

An international summit on the issue, being held at the IEA’s Paris headquarters on May 14, will “mobilise financial flows” to help deal with the problem.

In Africa, Mr Birol said, four out of five families use “primitive cookstoves” to prepare food, and these are typically powered by polluting fuels such as charcoal, wood and animal dung.

“This [pollution] is a major problem for women, because it is one of the top two reasons for premature death for women in Africa. Every year, half a million women die prematurely because of that,” he said.

The World Health Organisation has said that household air pollution as a whole is responsible for 7.7 per cent of all deaths worldwide.

The Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa will be chaired by Mr Birol, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, and the Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

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Updated: January 20, 2024, 11:49 AM