The influence of the fossil fuel industry at the United Nations annual climate conference, commonly called COP28, was a focal point on Monday with the president of the talks pushing back against criticism that his role heading a fossil fuel company conflicted with the need to reduce fossil fuel use. Meanwhile, The Associated Press found that the number of people in Dubai affiliated with fossil fuel interests had substantially grown compared with previous years.
Adding to the criticism was former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who noted the conflict in COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber's dual roles — leading the conference and an oil company — and said it “goes to the heart” of whether the world can prevent even more dangerous warming.
Leaders also focused on the problem of financing renewable energy and climate projects. Climate change will require expending tremendous resources and that burden will fall especially hard on developing countries.
Takeaways from Monday's events in Dubai:
Al-JABAR GETS PRICKLY
Al-Jaber, who heads Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., bristled over media scrutiny of comments recently published by The Guardian newspaper where he said in part, “Please, help me, show me for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socio-economic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves.”
The comments were made during a conversation with three women involved with climate activism and gender in November. He was off camera addressing questions about the oil company's increased investment in oil and gas production and the importance of quickly phasing out fossil fuels.
“There is no science out there, or no scenario out there that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 (degrees Celsius) — 1.5 is my North Star. And a phase-down, and a phase-out of fossil fuel, in my view, is inevitable, it is essential, but we need to be real, serious and pragmatic about it,” he said in the November video.
When asked about those comments at a press conference Monday, al-Jaber said he believes in science and was “laser-focused” on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees compared with pre-industrial times. He went through a long list of achievements at the conference, criticizing the media for not making that the focus of its headlines.
“I am quite surprised with the constant and repeated attempts to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency and the attempts to undermine the message that we keep repeating when it comes to how much we respect the science,” he told the room of journalists.
He took two questions.
The United Arab Emirates does not have freedom of the press and its leaders are unaccustomed to probing, critical questions from independent media.
AL GORE INTERVIEW
One of the critics of al-Jaber's leadership is former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who said in an interview with The Associated Press that the UAE leader had “a direct conflict of interest” because of his position as head of an oil company.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. not only is trying to increase its production, but it is “one of the largest and one of the dirtiest, by many measures, oil companies in the world,” Gore said.
Gore said the oil and gas sector, including ADNOC, doesn't properly disclose emissions, according to a carbon pollution-tracking database that Gore helped put together and just updated called Climate TRACE.
“The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company still claims to have no emissions from methane or anything else from the transport of oil and gas. Well, actually, they do. We can see them from space," Gore said.
BIG FOSSIL FUEL PRESENCE
Al-Jaber's leadership in the oil and gas sector is only a piece of the industry's influence and presence at the conference in Dubai. The Associated Press analyzed registrants for this year's climate talks and found at least 1,300 representatives of fossil fuel interests. That's more than three times the number the AP found in an analysis of last year's talks.
Those representatives are just a small piece of overall registrations nearly double that of last year's talks.
Activists have long questioned their presence at an event where meaningful negotiations have to take aim at the heart of their businesses. But the energy interests that sent representatives said the fact that they account for a big part of the world's emissions is the very reason they need to be there.
Leaders focused on the enormous financial costs of climate change that will fall especially hard on countries that weren't responsible for the bulk of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Countries will have to pay to adapt to climate change and react to disasters. Some progress on the issue was made soon after talks opened with the establishment of a fund to help countries damaged by climate change.
Major world financial institutions including the World Bank committed to writing loans that allow countries to pause debt payments when they are hit by disaster.
And ahead of the day, more than 200 advocacy groups, including Climate Action Network International and 350.org, called for changes to a financial system that they say benefits traditional institutions like fossil fuel companies while suffocating low-income countries with debt. These problems call for debt cancellation and investment in renewable energy — solutions that need to be led by local communities.
The president of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, said he wants his institution to increase climate finance quickly.
“We cannot make climate only about emissions,” he said.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell, Seth Borenstein, Sibi Arasu and Jamey Keaten contributed from Dubai.
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