Countries must step up and deliver at crunch talks, says top Cop28 official

Majid Al Suwaidi says climate talks are always hard but the UAE is providing support to reach consensus

Majid Al Suwaidi, Cop28 director general. There is a lot of work to do at Cop28, he says. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Powered by automated translation

Countries must step up and deliver for the climate at the crunch Cop28 summit, a top Emirati official has told The National.

Majid Al Suwaidi, Cop28 director general, said climate negotiations are “always going to be difficult” but the UAE had given all the space and support they could for parties to reach a consensus.

In an interview with The National just days before the UAE hosts world leaders at the summit, Mr Al Suwaidi cautioned that the presidency could not tell countries what the outcome should be but would instead help “bridge their differences”.

“We have done that over the course of the year,” said Mr Al Suwaidi. “We are doing that at Cop28 and now it is on those parties to come with the right mindset and deliver an outcome.”

Less than a week to go

Cop28 begins on Thursday at Expo City Dubai, where leaders from close to 200 countries will try to tackle the escalating climate emergency amid geopolitical tensions from Ukraine to Gaza.

The summit comes in a year when temperature records have been shattered, extreme weather events have become common and the UN this week warned that the crucial 1.5ºC warming target is slipping away.

“We know the window is closing,” said Mr Al Suwaidi. “[But] the scientists tell us that 1.5°C is within reach. We need to deliver results at this Cop.”

Countries will also grapple with the global stocktake, or how the world is measuring up to the goals of the 2015 Paris deal; the future for fossil fuels; scaling up climate finance; and getting the contentious loss and damage fund into operation.

Mr Al Suwaidi said the UAE planned many announcements during the summit and also hailed the framework loss and damage deal in Abu Dhabi earlier this month that could pave the way for agreement on the fund at Cop28.

“Our Cop president stepped up, called them for a meeting in Abu Dhabi and we managed to get an outcome. So we already have a success.”

Fossil fuels

Mr Al Suwaidi said the future of fossil fuels had been a “hot topic” for years. EU countries plan to seek a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels – meaning they could be used with carbon capture methods – but other parties don't want to go that far. So how does the UAE presidency navigate this?

“It is something there is a lot of passion around,” he said, and outlined how the world needed a 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 if the goals of the 2015 Paris deal were to be met.

What is Cop28?

What is Cop28?

“We have an energy system today. We can’t ignore that,” he said, “but what are the practical steps to decarbonise it? We need to change the narrative, so it is less finger-pointing to one that is more positive.”

The experienced Cop negotiator said there was “still a lot to do” at Cop28 from scaling up climate finance to getting countries to come forward with more ambitious climate action plans to ramping up funds for climate adaptation.

“We are living in a world of increasing climate impacts particularly on vulnerable communities, so we need to see doubling of adaptation finance.”

Mr Al Suwaidi also reminded people that what’s known as a cover decision, a form of summary often issued at the end of the summit to wrap up what was agreed, was not mandatory and didn’t define whether a Cop was successful or not.

“You could have a totally successful Cop without a cover decision,” he said, stating the Paris agreement agreed at Cop21 was not a cover decision but a separate agreement made by the parties. “If we have a decision from loss and damage at Cop, that is a success. That doesn’t need a cover decision.”

Steering the conversation

Mr Al Suwaidi was chief negotiator for the UAE during the Paris talks. He is well versed in the arduous nature of negotiations that can go into the night and force the summit into extra days. How can the UAE help guide the talks amid so many competing countries and national interests?

“We like to think of these as black and white or good or bad but in fact you have shades of grey,” he said. When asked if it is very difficult to keep the process moving forward amid this type of back and forth, he replied, with a smile: “That’s the fun of it.

“That’s what makes the presidency powerful and important. You can help bridge the gaps.”

And how does the presidency keep the focus on the talks amid so much geopolitical tension? “We know we are in a time of global unrest and it is important that is addressed as much as possible. But the great thing about climate is that it is a space where everybody agrees in the common direction we want to go.”

The UAE has come in for criticism from certain sections of the western press since the country was announced as hosts. This chiefly focused on the choice of Dr Sultan Al Jaber as President-designate while also serving as Adnoc chief.

The fact the UAE has been a major fossil fuel producer has also been highlighted. But the country has been backed by major players from China to the US.

“I think it comes with the territory,” Mr Al Suwaidi said. “There is no doubt we have received criticism just as every presidency has.

“We in the UAE are used to being criticised for things. We were criticised for wanting to diversify our economy. But we deliver. Today our economy is 70 per cent non oil and gas.”

Cops used to be small gatherings but have grown into major annual events. Organisers predict Cop28 will draw 70,000 attendees from world leaders to indigenous people and climate advocates.

“Everybody is welcome to Cop28. Protesters will have space in the blue zone to protest, as every other Cop,” said Mr Al Suwaidi, who added that it was important to have a “respectful” conversation.

“We are allowing for that. All we ask is people come with their solutions and ideas and contribute to us solving the problem of climate.”

Sheikh Mansour inspects the final preparations of Cop28

Updated: November 27, 2023, 5:45 AM