Stop the attacks on COP28 hosts

Critics of the choice of venue for COP28 have probably forgotten that, like a pandemic, global warming has no borders

Published : 14 Jul 2023 08:42 PM
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The UAE, which will host the COP28 climate change conference in November and December, is not the first state in the Middle East to host the Conference of the Parties. Indeed, COP18 was organized in Doha and last year’s COP27 took place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

It was in Sharm El-Sheikh, in fact, that an alarming study pointed to the fact that the Middle East was experiencing global warming twice as much as the global average. The study established an average increase of 0.45 degrees Celsius per decade in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, based on data collected from 1981 to 2019, when the global average increase was 0.27 C per decade. This observation is appalling and alarming.

The Middle East is experiencing global warming head-on, at almost twice the global average rate, with potentially devastating effects for its people and economies. Some 400 million people in the region are at risk of extreme heat waves, prolonged droughts and rising sea levels.

According to the aforementioned study, “virtually all” areas of life will be “seriously affected” by hotter and drier climates. This will potentially contribute to an increase in the death rate and exacerbate “inequalities between the wealthy and the poorest populations” in the region.

The Middle East is not only likely to suffer severely from climate change, but also to be a major contributor to it, the study continued. It stated that this oil-rich region could soon become one of the world’s major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The choice of Dubai to host COP28, as aberrant as it may appear at first glance, is not meaningless. On the contrary, the organization of the conference includes in the foreground a Middle Eastern state that should be at the heart of the solution to the problem of global warming. 

The UAE has been a victim of its own success in terms of its exponential economic growth since the 1980s. Dubai in particular has been and still is the city of excess. However, in recent years, the UAE has changed path and sought to become a pioneering image of ecotourism. About 20 km from Abu Dhabi city center, a sandy expanse is now the construction site for Masdar City (Masdar means “source” in Arabic). This “ecocity,” which is scheduled for completion in 2030, is guided by renewable energy, a low-carbon transport network and a zero-waste strategy.

Critics of the choice of venue for COP28 have probably forgotten that, like a pandemic, global warming has no borders.

The Middle East is not only likely to suffer

 severely from climate change, but also to

 be a major contributor to it. This oil-rich

 region could soon become one of the world’s 

major sources of greenhouse gas emissions

COP28 President-designate Sultan Al-Jaber announced last year: “The fundamental challenges of the energy transition are as follows: First, how to make economies grow, while curbing emissions. Two, how to maintain energy security and climate progress at the same time. Three, how to ensure no one is left behind. I believe we can, we must, and indeed we have no choice but to solve these challenges together.”

Note the unfailing determination of the president who will be in charge of directing the debates at COP28. Back in 2006, Al-Jaber founded the renewable energy company Masdar when only 33 years old.

In 2009, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed him to his advisory group on energy and climate change. They published a major report the following year. At the same time, Al-Jaber obtained permission to set up the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi.

Critics of the choice of venue for COP28 have probably forgotten that, like a pandemic, global warming has no borders.

Nathalie Goulet

Since 2010, Al-Jaber has served two separate terms as the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, making it his mission to fulfill the country’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This commitment was made following the 2015 Paris Agreement, with the UAE becoming the first country in the Middle East to take a decisive step toward climate action.

Al-Jaber has offered a pragmatic approach to the energy transition, calling for a realistic, practical and economically viable plan to ensure climate progress, energy security and economic growth at the same time.

“Progressive climate action is not only necessary, it can also be a powerful economic driver, and if we do it right, it can actually set the world on a new low-carbon, high-growth development trajectory. So we need to start looking at the climate challenge as an opportunity,” he said in 2021. “The world needs all the solutions it can get. It is not oil and gas, or solar, not wind or nuclear, or hydrogen. It is oil and gas and solar, and wind and nuclear, and hydrogen. It is all of the above, plus the clean energies yet to be discovered, commercialized and deployed. In short, the world needs maximum energy and minimum emissions.”

Al-Jaber displays a pragmatic and realistic goal that is in line with the Paris Agreement — that of raising climate ambitions.

The approach adopted by the UAE reflects its position as a pioneer in the field of renewable energy and its place as the first country in the region to deploy nuclear energy.

Furthermore, pursuant to Article 4, Paragraph 4 of the Paris Agreement, the targets for progress are fueled by partnering and engaging with other nations to make today’s energy system cleaner, while investing in the clean energy of tomorrow.

The Paris Agreement stipulates: “Developed country parties should continue to lead the way in taking on economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country parties should continue to increase their mitigation efforts and are encouraged to move progressively toward economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.”

The appointment of Al-Jaber has frequently been criticized because he is CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and an oil tycoon. However, it should be emphasized that the Conferences of the Parties bring together not only the representatives of the states parties, but also of nonstate actors, including local authorities, nongovernmental organizations and scientists. Thus, it is in the DNA of each conference to include the widest possible spectrum of stakeholders to address the climate emergency.

This variety targets a single and unique goal: accelerating and strengthening collective climate action.

Al-Jaber’s professional capacity should not be seen as a conflict of interest, but rather he should be viewed as an energy specialist who can act in the interest of the ecological transition.

And the UAE — a member of the UN Security Council, an important member of the international community, an actor in the fight against religious extremism and the Muslim Brotherhood, a victim of global warming and a major consumer of energy — is fully justified in hosting and chairing COP28.

“Our house is burning and we are looking elsewhere.” These words uttered by then-French President Jacques Chirac in 2002 remain relevant today. We must stop the sterile polemics because the fate of our planet depends on it.

Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy)