What were some of the initial controversies and concerns surrounding the ongoing Dubai COP28 climate summit?

What were some of the initial controversies and concerns surrounding the ongoing Dubai COP28 climate summit?
In one of the tracks from his brilliant 'Unreal Unearth' album, Hozier sings about residents of warmer climates dreading the coming of night, elaborating on how being able to press their bodies to the relatively cooler concrete of their walls and floors is the only solace many have left from the increasingly hot nights.

While singing fondly about someone from an unfamiliar warm climate, Hozier somehow managed to capture a rather unspoken, yet uncomfortable part of living in tropical regions like India and Africa. With increasing temperatures and the effects of climate change stomping on the most vulnerable, the call for concrete and prompt action has never been more deafening.

To solve this pertinent task, world leaders have once again, for the 28th time, congregated to discuss climate change — this time in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The two-week-long global climate summit, termed the Conference of Parties (COP), will attempt to agree on what each country will need to do to avoid the impending global climate doom. The gravity of these discussions has implications for almost all aspects of modern life, from how businesses operate to how we eat and live.

However, the fact that we have organised 28 of these summits, and researchers continue to slam reports of a worsening planet, is concerning, to say the least. Many activists lament that these COP meetings are painfully slow in causing meaningful changes.

But perhaps the biggest controversy of this year lies tangled within the very structure of COP28.

Adding oil to the drama


Not only is the conference being held in the UAE — a country richened through its production of fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas — but Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber has also been appointed as the COP28 president this year. Al Jaber is famously the CEO of ADNOC, one of the world's largest oil companies, and one that is state-operated by the UAE.

But the controversy pot fully spilleth over when a recent BBC report revealed that the presiding UAE COP28 team was briefed to discuss furthering ADNOC's business operations with the visiting countries, such as examining natural gas opportunities in Mozambique, Canada and Australia.

Many experts consider such commercial discussions despicable, especially considering that they planned just ahead of the COP28 summit, which should have batted for phasing out fossil fuels. In addition to being basically the antithesis to the climate meeting, BBC maintains that, if true, these were a "serious breach of the standards of conduct expected of a COP president".

However, this isn't the first time ADNOC's worrisome presence has been tangled amongst COP28 affairs. Earlier in June, a Guardian report revealed that the COP28 office might have been sharing email servers with the oil giant, meaning that ADNOC may have had access to the confidential emails that fluttered to and fro the COP office.

Nevertheless, the conference has already commenced with Al Jaber as the president, who remains optimistic about our climate goals. Earlier this week, he insisted that we can keep the 1.5°C warming within reach even with fossil fuels still on the table — a view many climate experts contest. It remains to be seen whether the UAE will be able to rope their close ally and massive oil producer Saudi Arabia behind the climate change cause.

On the positive side, Al Jaber noted that discussions with oil and gas companies have been fruitful so far, with many agreeing to zero out methane emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050. Over 600 oilpatch and coal industry officials will likely attend COP28, and it remains to be seen whether they turn out friend or foe by the end of the two-week-long discussion.

Early (cautionary) victories for poorer countries

However, there are some positives. After much back and forth spanning many previous climate summits and far too many years, several COP28 countries have finally agreed to a climate damage fund. This loss and damage fund will pool money to help poorer nations cope with climate disasters, most of which were created by climate change-exacerbating emissions from richer countries. So far, the UAE ($100 million), the European Union ($245.39 million, including $100 million from Germany), Britain ($51 million), the United States ($17.5 million) and Japan ($10 million) remain noteworthy contributors, Reuters reports.

The fact that we have an actual number on the table is great, but experts still worry about how the climate damage fund would actually be financed, since the processes aren't explicitly defined by the participating nations yet. However, many delegates rejoice that the adoption of the fund will at least enable organisations and nations to focus on mitigation and adaptation.

But keeping the 1.5°C dream alive would take some work. This year's COP has marked the completion of the first Global Stocktake assessing the progress made by participating nations since they agreed to the 2015 Paris Agreement. Quite lamentably, it reads that despite gathering speed, our green transition is nowhere near fast enough to limit global warming to the stipulated levels.

Current nationally determined contributions only lower greenhouse gas emissions to 2% below 2019 levels by 2030. The science says this figure should stand at 43% for us to have any inkling of hope. The International Energy Agency asserts that to meet our climate targets, we must triple global renewable power capacity by 2030, and cut methane from oil and gas companies by at least 75%. Fortunately, the EU, the US and the UAE had already begun to rally for the tripling front in the run-up to the summit.

Criticism has also befallen India, with the country aiming to add 17 additional gigawatts of coal-based power generation within the next 16 months, Reuters reports. This is the fastest pace with which such fossil fuel plants have been set up in recent years, which has been explained as the only viable option to meet the country's recent record power demands.

A marathon of arduous discussions awaits the nearly 200 countries attending COP28. It remains to be seen whether we will be able to take steps at the unprecedented phase required to save the planet, and if the UAE will be able to redeem themselves from their controversy-steeped first impressions.