In this post, our editorial team explores the challenges of the COP28 summit, with a focus on the diplomatic role of the UAE and concerns raised by campaigners.
The decision to hold this year’s COP summit in Dubai, the UAE, was met with frostiness and frustration by some states advocating for firmer action on climate change. While many are keen to work with oil-rich states like Norway and the Gulf states to increase renewables and decrease fossil fuels is necessary, it remains to be that many of these states are alleged to be involved with dealings around their vast oil wealth which are alleged to be not transparent. This could in part brought on by the absolute monarchies of the UAE’s political system, but is also a well-documented consequence of acquiring oil wealth, which political scientists argue is rarely governed transparently across a range of national contexts (as documented in our own recent article on Venezuela).
The UAE more broadly has been accused of greenwashing their state industries while preparing for the conference. The build-up to the talks was no doubt spoiled most when the UAE was accused by the international press of taking advantage of their position as leader of the conference to attempt to sign a number of new fossil-fuel deals with 27 foreign governments on the eve of its commencement. Though it is hard to say that COP26 in Glasgow and the 2015 Paris Agreement were perfect, there were no allegations made like this, which could make progress at this conference difficult. Indeed, campaigners have also highlighted that it is hard to reconcile the several roles of COP28 President Sultan Al Jabber, who is also the CEO of ADNOC, the UAE’s state oil company, as well as Masdar, the UAE’s state renewables company.
Questions of inclusiveness at the summit have also been raised. While the UAE, and particularly Dubai, has begun to tout its credits as a more liberalised international city, it remains unsurprising that LGBT+ people and others that the UAE’s judiciary may consider immoral or even criminal have chosen to skip the conference this year under threat of persecution by the Emirati state. While the number of potential attendees missing out for this reason may be small, it highlights that human rights remain a significant unaddressed issue in the UAE despite their apparent opening up.
More generally, faith in the climate conference is now at an all-time-low. Small island countries state they have no confidence they can leverage funding to support their long-term security, and even larger states interested in global reform are finding themselves muffled in the face of the world’s oil giants. While COP27 in Egypt was not a total disaster, little came out of the conference. COP26 in Glasgow was the last time a serious agreement was reached. Perhaps there is some faith we can harbour here, which is that some argue the UAE has recently proven deft at bringing together states and industries we’d usually consider incompatible. Whether this will continue to be the case at COP28 is uncertain.
The Economist has reported that the COP28 President would like to focus on climate finance as a key aim of the conference, but with much overshadowing the host country’s credibility as a balanced negotiator, it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that the international community remains sceptical. The UAE’s government and the Gulf more broadly ultimately knows that their oil won’t last forever, they know there needs to be a future beyond it. Whether it’s NEOM in Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s efforts at sportswashing, or Dubai trying to make itself an international city with COP, the Gulf’s oil giants know that looking beyond today is necessary.