Cop28 President-designate vows to put adaptation at 'centre' of climate agenda

Region is suffering from harsh climate impacts, Dr Sultan Al Jaber tells regional meeting

The Mena Climate Week event started in Riyadh on Sunday. John Dennehy / The National
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Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate, has vowed to put climate adaptation at the centre of Cop28.

At the opening of the Middle East and North Africa Climate Week in Riyadh on Sunday, Dr Al Jaber said the region was suffering from harsh climate impacts, from droughts to the devastating floods of Derna in Libya.

Dr Al Jaber, also the UAE’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and UAE Special Envoy on Climate Change, said the Middle East and North Africa was a place of extreme water scarcity and food insecurity and this had to be addressed.

We must rapidly build the clean energy system of the future
Dr Sultan Al Jaber

“To deliver for our region we must put adaptation front and centre of the climate agenda,” said Dr Al Jaber.

Organised by the UNFCCC – the UN’s climate body – Mena Climate Week seeks to build momentum ahead of Cop28 with just over 50 days to go before the crucial talks.

Dr Al Jaber told attendees he was determined to rally the world behind an “ambitious and comprehensive climate agenda” at the summit in the UAE that starts in November.

And indirectly addressing the criticism the UAE has faced from some quarters for being host of the talks and a fossil fuel producer, Dr Al Jaber said 17 out of the past 27 Cops “have been hosted in fossil fuel producing nations”.

“We cannot unplug the energy system of today before we build the new system of tomorrow," Dr Al Jaber told attendees.

"It is simply not practical or possible. We must meet the energy demands of today, while providing access to the 800 million people without energy.

"We must rapidly build the clean energy system of the future, while we decarbonise the system of today," he added.

"That is why I have set a global goal of tripling renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. In parallel, I’ve called on all oil and gas companies to align around net zero by or before 2050 and to zero out methane emissions by 2030.

"So far, over 20 companies have stepped up and I continue to engage and ask everyone to get on board by Cop28.”

The five-day event in the Saudi Arabian capital aims to highlight climate change in a region that is among the most vulnerable to climate change.

The UNFCCC on Sunday highlighted how the climate models have predicted temperatures 20 per cent higher in the region than global averages placing further pressure on a region that is already the most water scarce in the world.

More than 60 per cent of the population in the region has very little if any access to potable water, the UN says.

Weight of responsibility

“When I wake most mornings, I feel the weight of responsibility of another headline about another climatic event,” said Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, told attendees on Sunday.

“I am not willing to give up on a 1.5°C future," said Mr Stiell, referring to the 2015 Paris deal's goal of trying to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C on pre-industrial levels.

"But I can’t do that alone. This region has found ways to thrive in a challenging natural environment. It has shown ingenuity and ability for adaptation for centuries and turned those skills into prosperity.

"It is a region facing the challenges of energy transition and reducing its carbon footprint while adapting to consequences of climate change that are already making themselves felt.”

Mr Stiell highlighted efforts by some states to expand the use of hydrogen and carbon capture technologies but cautioned this was “no substitute” for phasing out and transitioning away from all fossil fuels.

He added the region, however, could set an example to other countries in how to diversify such as building a tourism or financial services industry.

“The transition away from burning fossil fuels is a very difficult task in a world that has built its industry, transport and infrastructure around exactly that,” said Mr Stiell.

“No one knows this better than this region. Yet we have no choice; it has to be done and has to be done fast.

"The upcoming Cop must show the world we are ready to make hard decisions. That we are able to seek solutions rather than point to failures of the past.”

Unwavering commitment

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy, said the country’s hosting of Mena Climate Week underlined the country’s “unwavering commitment” to exploring all solutions to the climate challenges we currently face.

With just weeks to go before Cop28 starts, Prince bin Salman said Dr Al Jaber had a “mammoth” task of handling the crucial summit and there was hard work to do to ensure it was a success.

“The stakes are big; the ambitions are big,” he said.

Cop28 runs from November 30 to December 12 at Expo City Dubai where leaders will gather to tackle the escalating climate emergency with the UN stating the world remains off track to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C.

Dr Al Jaber said he was in Riyadh representing the fourth Middle East and North Africa country to host the crucial talks after Doha; Marrakesh; and Sharm-El-Sheikh.

"Our region has a proud history of delivering Cops for the world,” said Dr Al Jaber.

“And, with your help and support, Cop28 will again deliver for this region, and for the world. Maximum ambitions, zero emissions. Let’s show the world that this region is a true climate leader that can deliver truly inclusive climate progress. Cop28 is our moment."

Middle East and North Africa Climate Week runs from October 8 to October 12 in Riyadh.

Updated: October 08, 2023, 6:40 PM