No greenwashing here, Cop28 achieved genuine results

Despite a torrent of criticism, hosts UAE quietly worked behind the scenes to push through decisive action on climate change

Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber leaves the stage after a climate deal was unanimously approved at Expo City Dubai. AFP
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After a late night of hard bargaining, the final text from Cop28 was unveiled to the world – and every country backed it.

It will not satisfy everyone – it never does. But it succeeds in reconciling many of the goals of the most urgent climate campaigners with the need for an affordable and orderly transition. Cop28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber hailed it as 'The UAE Consensus'.

After considerable international criticism of the decision to host the event in a major oil producer nation and the choice of president, the outcome shows the wisdom of reconciling contrasting interests rather than sticking to ideological positions or unsustainable vested interests.

The UAE’s broad network of diplomatic contacts and the Emirate's credibility as a superpower in traditional energy that has also moved boldly into low-carbon energy was essential.

The outcome shows the wisdom of reconciling contrasting interests, rather than sticking to ideological positions or unsustainable vested interests

The goal of limiting warming to no more than 1.5°C is reaffirmed. The aims of tripling renewable energy and doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvements are included. Following much debate over “phasing down” or “phasing out” fossil fuels, the text is the first in Cop history to acknowledge explicitly the role of fossil fuels.

It includes accelerating the “phase-down” of unabated coal power, that is, without carbon capture and storage. For fossil fuels in general, the agreed phrase is “transitioning away”. Some experts do note that it “calls on” parties to pursue these aims, a relatively weak term.

From the point of view of the oil and gas industry, the text has a clear role in carbon capture and storage and properly emphasises the need to cut methane emissions. The role of natural gas as a transition fuel is implicitly acknowledged.

'Historic' global stocktake approved at Cop28 in Dubai

'Historic' global stocktake approved at Cop28 in Dubai

Some of the other specific areas of Cop28 take into consideration health, food system, food security, and the acknowledgement of mountain ecosystems, a specific request from some attendees. The important role of artificial intelligence in climate solutions, highlighted at the event by the Columbia Centre on Global Energy Policy, is also highlighted.

After the success of the first day in agreeing to the “loss-and-damage” fund to compensate countries for unavoidable climate effects, the role of finance and the private sector was addressed, as was the failure of about 2021 developed countries to meet the target of $100 billion of annual climate finance. However, apart from several contributions made during the summit, there is no commitment for extra money.

Some countries, notably vulnerable island states, are worried that the decision does not go far enough, given the rapidly worsening situation. Discussions can only set a path, not compel members to walk down it. Ultimately, countries and businesses need to live up to their commitments.

There is plenty to hide behind in this text, for those not properly committed to tackling climate change. There is plenty to build on, for those who want to avoid climate disaster and seize the green economy opportunity.

This region needs to build on what it has achieved in these discussions. That means living up to the promised methane cuts, and the prompt, large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage. If the oil and gas industry is serious about playing its part in the energy transition, there is no time for half-measures and excuses – now it has to deliver.

Robin M. Mills is chief executive of Qamar Energy and author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis

Updated: December 14, 2023, 12:03 PM