Success at Cop28 critical, says new UK envoy to UAE

Edward Hobart says the outcome of crucial climate talks must be ambitious as possible - and the UK is ready to help

Edward Hobart, UK ambassador to the UAE, spoke to The National. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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It is absolutely critical the Cop28 summit in the UAE this year is successful, the new UK ambassador to the UAE has said.

Edward Hobart said a climate deal had to be done in Dubai, one that is as ambitious as possible.

Speaking to The National on Tuesday in his first interview since he took up the role in May, the envoy also rejected criticisms of the choice of Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, to lead the talks.

“It is critical for the world that it [Cop28] is as successful as it possibly can be. But the agenda is really challenging,” said Mr Hobart. “It is a huge undertaking for the UAE.”

Edward Hobart, UK envoy to the UAE, said there was a lot of shared history between two countries. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

He said the UK would do “whatever it can” to make the summit at Expo City Dubai from November 30 to December 12 a success, given the UK's hosting of Cop26.

He said Dr Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate, was the right person to host the talks because he has credibility across the renewable energy and oil and gas sectors.

“We are absolutely clear,” Mr Hobart said. “We see the real benefit in Dr Sultan chairing Cop28 because of the experience he brings. He is a renewables man. Then he was an oil person.

"We need the big energy companies to switch their investment priorities to renewable energy from hydrocarbons. That’s about engaging them. He has got credibility. It is not the UAE’s responsibility to deliver the solution to climate change globally.”

Mr Hobart said the UK’s priorities for Cop28 were keeping the global warming target of 1.5°C alive; seeking a transition to renewable energy; reducing fossil fuel emissions but also usage, with a particular emphasis on coal; and scaling up climate finance for the transition.

“We must get as ambitious an agreement as we possibly can, so it is not a question of good luck but also a question of 'we want to help you'," he said.

Travelling the world

Mr Hobart’s role as ambassador represents a sort of homecoming for the career diplomat. He was born in 1971 in London, studied history at the University of Oxford and joined the UK’s diplomatic corps in 1993. His first field posting was to Cuba in 1990s.

“When I moved to Cuba ... there was one shop in the whole country. It was very difficult but a beautiful country.”

A keen rugby fan, Mr Hobart even managed to set up a team in Havana. “The number 8 was a Cuban record hammer-thrower,” he said, with a chuckle. “They have brilliant athletes.”

It was then on to Malaysia before taking up the deputy ambassador post in Abu Dhabi in 2011, then three years in Dubai as consul general during what was a crucial time in the UAE’s history. He arrived as Dubai was emerging from the global financial crash and then had a front-row seat as the country surged back to form. When asked how the UAE of today compared with 2011, Mr Hobart said it was still early days but “they are clear on being a clean energy superpower”.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. March 6, 2017///

Exterior. A portrait of the building. It was built by an important architect, John Harris, who also designed the WTC in Dubai. It contains important contemporary British artworks and is an interesting building in its own right. British Ambassador's residence, British Embassy. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National 

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Reporter: Nick Leech
Section: Review  *** Local Caption ***  170306-MM-RV-Harrisbuilding-001.JPG

“There is a lot more physical change in Abu Dhabi than Dubai. You expect it in Dubai. Now there is a sense the rest of the Emirates have grown and changed.”

Teaming up on defence

Mr Hobart’s other priorities will be on defence and security, and boosting economic ties. In terms of defence, he highlighted the UK’s naval assets deployed in the region such as HMS Lancaster, which has intercepted illegal weapon shipments in the Arabian Gulf.

“There is lots of co-operation,” he said. “There are lots of things we agree on and then sometimes things where don’t necessarily agree on. But we can have those conversations.”

Ties are warm and historic. British residents and companies played a crucial role in building up the early UAE from the airports to the police force. Underlining this, Mr Hobart during the interview sits in the ambassador’s residence in Abu Dhabi, the same building designed by John Harris who was also behind Dubai’s World Trade Centre and the city’s first master plan.

Economic ties

Today there are about 5,000 British companies in the UAE; the UAE is Britain’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and third-largest trading partner outside Europe after China and the US. Total trade in goods and services between the UK and the UAE last year was £21.6 billion (Dh98 billion).

The UK is also negotiating a free trade deal with the GCC and it says this could boost the current bilateral trade between it and the GCC that stood at £61.3 billion in 2022 by 16 per cent. The UAE and UK have also launched a strategic dialogue to boost ties and there is major UAE investment in the UK spanning sectors from energy to infrastructure.

Mr Hobart also highlighted the 100,000 British residents in the UAE (he said there has not been a rise since Covid-19) and 1.5 million visitors a year to the UAE as further examples of the strong relationship.

"We have a long, strong history together – people ties, investment ties and business ties. The messages have been very positive from the Emiratis to me about the fact they see a lot of opportunities to work with the UK. There is a lot of alignment in our interests. And we want to take these opportunities now."

Cop26 in Glasgow - in pictures

Outside of his busy schedule, Mr Hobart has largely left his rugby-playing days behind but still coaches youth teams and is a frequent visitor to Dubai Rugby Sevens. But he is also hoping to take advantage of Abu Dhabi's extensive cycle tracks to indulge his love of the sport.

“Normally I cycle through the rain in the Surrey Hills,” he said. “It will be a bit different here.”

Updated: June 09, 2023, 3:28 PM