This month marked a year and a half since UAE’s bid to host the UN Climate Change Conference was confirmed. In just over six months the UAE will welcome the largest gathering of heads of state and governments on climate and environmental issues when COP28 UAE finally gets underway at Expo City in Dubai in November.
Returning to the Middle East for a second time in two years, COP28 will provide the usual platform for global leaders to discuss and agree on policies to mitigate climate change and how to better adapt to climate impact. It will also include the first Global Stocktake (GST). Conceptualized as a comprehensive assessment of progress since adopting the Paris Agreement in November 2016, the GST will illustrate the successes and failures of our multinational collaboration and include measures to be implemented to bridge the gaps in progress.
With just seven years remaining to meet the initial target of halving emissions by 2030 and thereby meet the agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the responsibility of ensuring a response with a clear plan of action falls on the COP28 UAE Presidency, H.E. Dr. Sultan Al Jaber.
As a member of the UAE Federal Cabinet and Minister for Industry and Advance Technology, Dr. Al Jaber is no stranger to government policy or sustainability issues. His accomplishments include leading the team that established Masdar – the UAE’s renewable and clean energy vehicle – under the UAE leadership and leading the country’s successful bid to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) under the leadership of H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Internationally he was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC) and, in 2012, was the recipient of the UN Champions of the Earth award for his work on advancing clean energy technologies.
He also continues to serve as Group CEO of ADNOC – a position which has captured the focus and ire of journalists, and increasingly politicians.
However it must be said that much of the international press has so far demonstrated a myopic viewpoint devoid of nuance or the knowledge required to understand what a successful transition from fossil fuels looks like, and how it can be accomplished without causing economic chaos. This is a complex issue and context as well as an appreciation of history are badly needed.
Since the industrial revolution, humanity has been afforded lower poverty levels and higher living standards through the development of factories and machinery and, more recently, through the widespread use of electricity. For the most prolonged period in history, these developments have been powered on a large-scale basis by coal and gas and subsequently oil.
It wasn’t until 1985 that scientists identified a hole in the Ozone layer. In March 1995, the CPO debuted in Berlin, where the first meaningful congregation of leadership occurred to address the challenges ahead to understand how a unified approach could support a healthier planet for all. Since then, the amount of investment that has flowed into renewable energy has steadily increased, with 2022 recognized as the most significant aggregated investment year to date at $1.4 trillion. However, as accurately summarized by economist Ed Yardeni, “Renewables aren’t ready for prime time. So instead of a smooth transition, the rush to eliminate fossil fuels is causing their prices to soar and disrupting the overall supply of energy.”
In the age of black-and-white politics where extreme rhetoric driven by vested interests and overzealous politicians is just par for the course, many consumers have been conditioned not only into thinking that fossil fuels are inherently bad but that anyone associated with oil, gas or coal investment should be boycotted. Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that is working, and unfortunately to the complete detriment of the industry and consumers who will ultimately be hit in their wallets with the volatility attached to price rises.
Dr. Al Jaber himself alluded to the need to transition sensibly during his speech at the Bloomberg ‘Emerging + Frontier Forum’ in 2022, “The fundamental challenges of the energy transition are as follows: One: How to ensure economies move forward while putting the brakes on emissions. Two: How to maintain energy security and climate progress at the same time. Three: How to make sure that no one gets left behind. I believe we can, we must, and in fact, we have no other option but to solve these challenges together.”
Those who fundamentally believe that oil and gas companies should pack up shop should also understand the difference between pushing a commodity until it runs out versus understanding the challenges ahead and allocating investment toward a functional transition. As a case in point, Dr. Al Jaber’s ADNOC allocated $15 billion towards low-carbon solutions by 2030, including carbon capture, electrification, new CO2 absorption technology and enhanced investments in hydrogen and renewables – all part of its goals to reduce carbon intensity by 25% by 2030.
Like so many significant challenges we face, there is rarely an immediate solution that doesn’t require confronting key challenges. The participation of all stakeholders is essential for the long-term realization of our goals, and that capitulating to the whims of those who are poorly informed will only cause further delay and disruption. It is in fact through the committed efforts of organizations such as the UNFCCC, and the demonstrable action of those invested in R&D, we are now arriving at a point where we can envision a practical energy transition without engaging in regressive policies or passing on costs to those who can least afford it.