UAE's Jaber says keeping 1.5 Celsius goal ‘alive’ is top priority for COP28

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The United Arab Emirates climate envoy and designated president of the COP28 climate summit said on Wednesday his main priority would be to keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as the world falls behind on the target.

Sultan al-Jaber brushed off criticism over his designation as COP28 president given his role as head of the UAE's state oil giant, telling Reuters in his first public remarks on the matter that tackling climate change required a united effort.

The UAE, a major OPEC oil exporter, is hosting the climate summit this year, the second Arab state to do so after Egypt in 2022. Jaber's appointment fueled activist concern that big industry was hijacking the world's response to the global warming crisis.

“I have no intention whatsoever of deviating from the 1.5 goal,” Jaber said in his first interview since being assigned the role. “Keeping 1.5 alive is a top priority and it will cut across everything I do.”

Scheduled to take place in Dubai between Nov. 30 and Dec. 12, the conference will be the first global assessment of progress since the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015 to limit global warming.

As COP28 president, Jaber will help shape the conference agenda and intergovernmental negotiations.

He said he would focus on building consensus and was ready to listen to all parties that wanted to engage positively.

“We have a major challenge ahead of us,” Jaber said.

“How about for once we capitalize on everybody's capabilities and strengths and fight climate change rather than going after each other,” he said when asked about the criticism.

With a decade of climate diplomacy experience, Jaber isn't short of green credentials.

His first chief executive role was at Masdar, the Abu Dhabi green energy vehicle that he founded in 2006 and is now among the largest investors globally in clean energy.

Jaber told Reuters it was that experience that led the UAE's leadership to assign him to head Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) with a mandate to “transform, decarbonize and future-proof” the energy firm.

Balancing passion with realism

The Paris Agreement commits countries to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius, a level which if crossed could unleash far more severe climate change effects, scientists say.

Jaber said a major “course correction” was needed to stick to the target. “We need to be honest with ourselves, we know the whole world is way off track.”

An approach that leaves no one behind, including oil and gas companies, was necessary so they can be part of the solution rather than being categorized as part of the problem, Jaber said.

While voicing appreciation for climate activists' passion and the need for their voices to be heard, Jaber added: “You have to balance passion with being realistic, this is what we need to focus on”.

On the need to mobilize more capital, he pointed to the reform of international financial institutions and engagement with the private sector.

“The private sector will be interested in exploring opportunities especially in the vulnerable communities if concessional instruments are out there supported by international financial institutions to help lower the risks,” Jaber said.

He also sees the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) model that was approved for South Africa at COP26 and Indonesia at COP27 as a successful way to drive progress in transitional economies that should be expanded.

“The key to their success so far has been the public private partnership approach that blends concessional and private finance to lower investment barriers and risks.”

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