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COP28: UAE climate conference does right by being practical about oil

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As COP28 draws to a close in Dubai, the UN climate conference achieved results of substantial promise on the one hand, while sparking controversy on the other.

These two aspects can be easily factored in, first from the unique context in hosting the conference here in the UAE and its status as a front-runner in pioneering ground-breaking development experiences.

The second aspect arises from the conference taking place in a major oil-producing country like the UAE, despite the emphasis placed on mitigating carbon emissions from fossil fuel sources.

Such circumstances have provided fertile ground for controversy over climate change issues, which has been given top priority in safeguarding the planet and halting global warming. Any delay or failure on this would lead to more natural calamities and the potential disappearance of some islands and coastal states, as environmentalists say.

The approaches undertaken are not exclusive to the UAE, which has set up the largest solar power parks. The most recent of these, approved in Dubai during the conference, will establish the world’s largest concentrated solar power and photovoltaic power project at a cost of Dh15 billion.

It will include the tallest concentrated solar power tower, at 263 meters, aligning with Dubai’s transition to 100 per cent clean energy by 2050. In addition, the UAE has provided funding and technical assistance for the setting up of dozens of green energy projects in various countries.

Flexibility is what’s needed

Besides the favourable opinions, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for finding ‘a compromise for solutions’, while Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, President of COP28, urged all ‘to be flexible and accept compromise to reach a deal’.

There were also some intense opinions like Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who urged negotiators to refuse graduality.

Those who failed to find any justification for criticism because of the UAE’s position and commitment to supporting clean energy, attributed the great success of COP28 to sheer luck. They said that ‘luck has smiled on Dubai once again’! And that luck may play a role in various domains, particularly in areas like ‘casinos’!

Luck was not behind Dubai’s and the UAE’s achievements. They are credited to sound economic policies, sustained dedication, and exhaustive efforts spanning years.

Individuals define the nation

This principle applies to other successful experiences of the recent past. Without the influence of Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore, the country would not have evolved into its current state of advancement. This same notion applies to Dubai, the UAE, and this is also what we are seeing now in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, emphasising the role of the individual in history.

The irony is those who are calling for the complete abandonment of fossil energy are not providing a cost-effective alternative, especially for less well-off countries.

This is simply because these countries will experience job losses and decline in growth and living standards. In fact, the world’s oil production currently amounts to 100 million barrels per day and the share of oil in the global energy mix is 81 per cent, according to Fatih Birol, Executive Director of International Energy Agency, adding that this percentage has not changed for 30 years.

Let us imagine for a moment if the production of oil, constituting this significant percentage, suddenly ceased. This scenario would lead to global economic collapse, triggering widespread unemployment, famine and conflicts.

Oil is central to growth

This is especially so since the demand for oil will rise by 23 per cent until 2045, according to OPEC. This means that radical ideas – often done without any recourse to rationale – issued by non-specialized and non-professional sources for propaganda reasons can lead to severe economic crises.

Hence, the outcomes of COP28 culminated in practical ideas geared toward a gradual transition to clean energy sources. Achieving this requires significant effort, substantial sources of financing and technological capabilities that still need to be developed.

In this vein, the host nation and participating countries have taken practical steps with a sense of responsibility and rationality that the world needs now more than ever. This is important to reach compatibility between climate action and sustainable development, within the concept of climate justice.

Mohammed Al Asoomi

The writer is a specialist in energy and Gulf economic affairs.

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