The United Arab Emirates’ Cop28 will accelerate an energy transition that “phases down the use of fossil fuels”, its president-designate Sultan al Jaber said, raising expectations for the climate summit in Dubai.
The remarks represent a slight shift in al Jaber’s position since his previous agenda-setting speech when he expressed support for the “phase out of fossil fuel emissions”, carving out a big role for carbon capture and storage technologies.
The renewed rhetoric also inches him closer to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who last month called on countries to phase out fossil fuels and “to leave oil, gas and coal in the ground where they belong”.
But al Jaber has still stopped short of calling for a “phase out” or indicating the pace at which the phase down needs to happen. His remarks are closely watched as the Cop host plays an important part in shaping the direction of negotiations, putting together the draft texts that countries are asked to accept.
Battle of words
The November summit in Dubai could see a repeat of the Cop26 word battle between governments pushing for a “phase out” or a “phase down” of coal-fired power.
In the end, the latter version of the commitment, backed by India and China, won out to the disappointment of Pacific island nations and some developed countries.
In separate remarks to the OPEC oil producing nations meeting in Vienna on Thursday, the Cop28 president-designate has urged the oil and gas industry to “step up its game” and invest more money in clean energy.
“The energy system of the future cannot and will not build itself”, he said.
Last month Guterres called on fossil fuel companies to inject their record windfall from high oil and gas prices into renewable energies, calling the current level of investment “immoral”.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), oil and gas companies invested less than 5% of their spending on clean electricity and carbon capture. Majors like Shell and BP have scaled back plans to boost spending for renewables, while reviving exploration for new oil and gas deposits.
Fossil fuels vs renewables
On Thursday Shell’s CEO Wael Sawan doubled down on the company’s commitment to fossil fuels. He told the BBC cutting oil and gas production would be “dangerous and irresponsible” as it would lead to the cost of living crisis to “shoot up again”.
Just a few hours later, al Jaber reiterated to the meeting of oil-producing countries that “the phase down of fossil fuels is inevitable, it is in fact essential”. But he also added that “it cannot be irresponsible” and that “the speed of the transition will be driven by how quickly we phase up zero-carbon alternatives.”
Al Jaber is the CEO of Adnoc, the UAE’s state-owned oil and gas company, and chairman of Masdar, a renewable energy provider.
Tripling global renewable energy generation by 2030 is one of the big pledges the Cop28 team is keen to deliver in Dubai. Proponents of the commitment also include the European Union, the United States, Chile, Colombia and representatives of small island states. The proposal has not met significant opposition.
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