UAE Consensus gives the world an unprecedented opportunity, says Cop28 President

    16 Jan 2024

    At the milestone Cop28 UN climate talks in Dubai, leaders and policymakers from around the world agreed to start the process of phasing out fossil fuels.

    As the work begins of putting the ambitious plans into action, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, tells The National about how the UAE Consensus was formed, key achievements of the global meeting in Dubai, and the challenges that remain.

    Cop28 has been widely hailed as historic, even by those who criticised the UAE’s Presidency. What stands out in your mind as the key elements that made it a success?

    It was, indeed, historic. From the beginning, we knew we had to deliver a different kind of Cop in order to put the world on track to keeping 1.5°C within reach. We overwhelmingly delivered on that, with many amazing firsts. Cop28 succeeded in uniting the world around a landmark response to the Global Stocktake, named ‘The UAE Consensus’, that delivered a package of ambitious and balanced outcomes across the entire climate agenda. This included the first time a Cop reached an agreement on transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner.

    The UAE Consensus also delivered agreement on the unprecedented global goal to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030, and a clear call to rapidly reduce methane and other non-CO2 gases this decade. In another global first, Cop28 created, operationalised and began to capitalise the fund to address loss and damage and made significant recommendations to transform the international climate finance system. This was an incredibly important achievement, as it helped to restore some trust between the Global South and the Global North.

    The political breakthroughs at Cop28 were matched by an equally impactful action agenda that engaged the private sector to an unprecedented degree in practical climate action. The Global Decarbonisation Accelerator brought together all heavy-emitting sectors in a comprehensive approach to decarbonising the demand and supply side of the energy system.

    In addition, $85 billion in new financial commitments were mobilised, including the UAE’s Alterra, the world’s largest catalytic private investor 100 per cent focused on solutions to climate change. Cop28’s action agenda also delivered significant outcomes in adaptation, including the first declarations on food, agriculture and health that will guide policymakers in practical adaptive responses to climate change, aimed at protecting the most vulnerable.

    In short, Cop28 managed to produce a practical road map to correct course in this critical decade for climate action by uniting all key stakeholders in a comprehensive and fully inclusive response. No single Cop will solve all climate challenges. Critically, each Cop builds on the successes of previous Cops. So, just as Cop28 built on the progress made in Egypt at Cop27, it is my hope that the progress achieved at Cop28 will be extended at Cop29 in Azerbaijan and again at Cop30 in Brazil.

    How did the UAE hosting Cop28 make this Cop different?

    The UAE should be very proud of its role in achieving this truly historic outcome. The vision, support and guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, was essential. His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, also played a very important role as Chair of the Higher Committee for Supervising the Preparations for Cop28, along with all the members of the committee. Her Highness Sheikha Mariam bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President of the Education and Human Resources Council, was also key to our success through her work leading the Executive Committee for Hosting and Managing Events.

    I think the UAE’s partnership approach to problem-solving which was inspired by our leadership was essential. From the start, we embraced an inclusive strategy that invited input from everyone. A key element of this was the Presidency’s global listening and engagement tour. The team visited every continent on the planet, including more than 50 countries, and had meetings with more than 200 global leaders, partners and climate change experts. During the tour, we listened to all stakeholders, learnt about their priorities and exchanged views openly and transparently to open up new levels of understanding and new ways of thinking.

    The contribution of the broader UAE community in supporting Cop28 was outstanding. From the thousands of volunteers who supported the event on the ground, to the federal and local authorities and our private sector partners. Every citizen and every resident should be proud: they have contributed to building a better future for humanity and the planet.

    If you had to pick one thing that was critical to success, what would that be?

    Inclusivity. We always knew that Cop28 had to be a Cop of action, and we always knew that to ensure meaningful action we would need everybody involved and contributing. This inclusive approach meant that it was the most well-attended Cop of all time, with around 85,000 Blue Zone delegates, and more than 545,000 visits to the Green Zone. Cop28 engaged with the widest range of stakeholders ever assembled at a Cop, from world leaders to local leaders, to faith leaders; from youth to Indigenous Peoples; from NGOs to CEOs. Every voice counted. Every voice was heard. We hosted the largest youth delegate programme in Cop history, ensuring meaningful engagement that resulted in the first Youth Global Stocktake and that this momentum continues by establishing the position of Presidency Youth Climate Champion for future Cops. Cop28 hosted youth pavilions in the blue and green zones for the first time and the first interfaith pavilion at a Cop. We ensured observers from civil society had access to the negotiating rooms.

    Yet inclusivity was about far more than access to the event – it was about making sure Cop28 was firmly anchored in the real world, and that everybody could make a valid contribution. As such, we hosted the largest gathering of mayors and local leaders ever assembled at a Cop, to elevate best practices in climate action that are often pioneered at the municipal level. And we engaged the private sector at an unprecedented level to ensure that what was agreed in the negotiating rooms could be translated into practical action in the real world.

    The Cop28 Business and Climate Philanthropy Forum is an important example of what this meant in practice. We brought together more than 1,300 global CEOs and leading philanthropists alongside Heads of State and Government. This was the first time any Cop had hosted an event of such scale and on such a level. Across the two days of the Forum, we ensured critical connections and alliances were formed to accelerate climate action across the global economy. On top of that, more than 20 major initiatives were announced, and more than $7 billion was formally committed for action towards climate and biodiversity targets.

    Were you concerned that Cop28 would not be able to bring different parties and countries together, especially at such a time of polarisation globally?

    From the beginning, I knew how much hard work had been carried out to prepare for Cop28, both on a practical level and on a diplomatic level, so I was confident, yet you can never be sure what is going to happen. The fact that the Parties agreed on the agenda immediately, which rarely happens, was very encouraging. Then, within hours of opening, Cop28 had agreed to operationalise the Loss and Damage fund and nations started coming forward with pledges. That was when I knew we had an opportunity within our grasp to make a difference and to change the world. Agreeing Loss and Damage alone was historic, and we were able to take that momentum into the World Climate Action Summit with global leaders and into the negotiations between the Parties.

    Your role was put under the microscope, due to your position at Adnoc, and despite your history with Masdar and renewables. Yet, this was the first Cop to agree language on fossil fuels – how significant is this?

    For many people, including fossil fuel language was the acid test for success or failure at Cop28. Many people doubted we could do it. No other Cop had managed to succeed in almost 30 years of trying. So, agreeing that language was, indeed, historic. Yet, for me, it is more important that it was part of a balanced and truly comprehensive global plan for action.

    As I said repeatedly in the build-up to Cop28, the world cannot switch off the energy system of today without building the energy system of tomorrow. The world cannot just deal with emissions without also adapting to change. And the world cannot move at speed without moving in a just and equitable way, leaving nobody behind. That means the world cannot do anything without creating a financial system capable of moving money quickly to where it is most needed.

    What I am most proud of is that Cop28 created a plan for simultaneous action across all of these areas. That is what the world needed to keep 1.5°C in reach, and that is what we delivered.

    You just mentioned the importance of financing climate action. Why has finance been such a priority for your Presidency?

    One of the key messages that came out of the Presidency’s global listening tour was that climate finance is nowhere near available, affordable and accessible enough – particularly for nations in the Global South. We addressed this in many ways – the $3.5 billion for the Green Climate Fund, more than $187 million for the Adaptation Fund, $129 million for the Least Developed Countries Fund, the World Bank announcing an increase of $9 billion annually for 2024 and 2025 to finance climate-related projects, Multilateral Development Banks announcing an increase of more than $22 billion towards climate action. So, I am proud that all the Parties came together and we saw so many financial pledges and commitments made at Cop28, including billions of dollars for food, nature and health. In total, Cop28 mobilised $85 billion for climate action.

    One key achievement from the Action Agenda that I believe is a real game-changer for climate finance was the UAE’s launch of Alterra – set to be the world’s largest private investment vehicle for climate action.

    Alterra is a fund like no other and its launch was a defining moment. This is for three reasons. First, because it is a truly unique and innovative contribution to the climate finance picture. It is, by far, the biggest private investor 100 per cent focused on solutions to climate change. Second, because it had a huge positive impact on the countries as they worked towards the UAE Consensus. And third, because it was part of a massive mind-shift at Cop28 towards viewing climate finance as a huge opportunity instead of a cost burden.

    Alterra includes a $25 billion acceleration fund to steer investment towards clean technology and renewable energy projects, and a $5 billion fund to provide risk-mitigating capital to incentivise investment flows into the Global South. Ultimately, Alterra aims to mobilise $250 billion globally by 2030, ensuring that investment goes where it is needed the most, including for emerging markets and developing economies. And the best thing is: Alterra’s model can and should be replicated by other nations.

    Fossil fuels and financing were two key elements at Cop28. What else would you highlight?

    The most important thing was that the Action Agenda was so comprehensive – it fully supported the Global Stocktake decision and formed a critical part of the overall UAE Consensus.

    Already, 133 countries have signed up to our global goal to triple renewables and double energy efficiency, 159 countries signed the UAE Declaration on Agriculture, Food and Climate and 147 countries signed the UAE Declaration on Climate and Health. All of these were world firsts.

    There were also declarations on climate finance, climate relief, hydrogen, a gender-responsive just transition, subnational action and cooling.

    In addition, and another world first, was the Global Decarbonisation Accelerator (GDA). This is a complete approach to decarbonising the energy system. Part of that brought 52 oil and gas companies, representing 40 per cent of global oil production, under the Oil and Gas Decarbonisation Charter. These companies are now committed to ending routine flaring and zeroing out methane emissions by 2030, as well as aligning around net zero by 2050. The GDA also includes the Industrial Transition Accelerator, to align entire sectors around decarbonisation pathways. This has been endorsed by 35 companies and six industry associations, from some of the most “hard-to-abate” sectors, including steel, aluminium, and cement and concrete.

    What is the legacy of Cop28, and what happens next?

    As I said in my closing speech: an agreement is only as good as its implementation. So, what happens next is that we work harder than ever, and with greater determination than ever, to establish a legacy that is as historic as the Cop28 outcome.

    We will be working extremely closely with both Azerbaijan and Brazil, the hosts of Cop29 and Cop30, to drive through the ambitious implementation of the UAE Consensus. This tripartite partnership is yet another world first in the Cop process, and yet another example of the UAE’s inclusive, innovative, and determined approach. It is the approach which built our nation and that delivered historic success at Cop28.

    Now we will take it to the next level as we work together as never before to keep 1.5°C in reach.

    What would you say to detractors now that Cop28 is over?

    It is no secret that some predicted that Cop28 would not be a success. I would just say that many of the reasons used to base this on – from the UAE’s expertise in producing all forms of energy to my experience across the energy value chain – in fact, contributed to some of the unprecedented breakthroughs made at this Cop.

    The UAE’s close relationships with the world’s largest economies, the biggest consumers of energy, the biggest producers and across the Global North and South also played a critical role in helping forge consensus. In short, the UAE Consensus demonstrated that, despite a very challenging geopolitical backdrop, multilateralism can still work.

    Cop28 proved that on the most consequential issue of climate change all nations can set aside differences and come together for the greater good.

    What is the key challenge that remains on climate action?

    I’ve always said our Presidency follows and is guided by the science and the science is now crystal clear.

    According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) 2023 was, at 1.48°C warmer than the pre-industrial age, the hottest since records began.

    This challenge demands urgent action and that is why we developed the UAE Consensus, now we need to translate this unprecedented agreement into accelerated action. This won’t be easy, but the severity of the situation demands it.

    Parties made significant commitments to reshape their nationally determined contributions around actionable plans to transition away from fossil fuels, triple renewable energy and double efficiency by 2030. We now need to see supportive policies and significant investment from governments that will incentivise action from the private sector, so that together we can turn pledges and promises into practical results.

    We need to see a sharper focus on comprehensive national adaptation plans that protect nature, transform food systems and take into account the growing impacts of climate change on global health.

    And critically, we need to continue to reshape the global financial system to unlock available, accessible and affordable finance and ensure that the Global South does not have to choose between development and climate goals.

    What do you see as the greatest opportunity coming out of the UAE Consensus?

    I think at the end of the day the UAE Consensus gives the world an unprecedented opportunity to break down the silos that have slowed climate progress because it represents an agreement based on an unprecedented level of inclusivity at every level.

    Not only did the world come together to unite around a series of political firsts, but there was also a remarkable level of solidarity at a practical level on the action agenda. Every non-government stakeholder group stepped up and made valid contributions. This included all industries, heavy-emitting sectors, and of course the oil and gas industry. This included mayors and sub-national leaders from every segment of society. And, as I mentioned before, it included youth participation at levels never achieved before. It is this comprehensive inclusivity that gives me hope that we can truly move the needle on climate action in this critical decade.

    This sense of positivity will be critical to maintaining momentum around climate action going forward. And I truly believe that the more we can view the climate challenge as an opportunity to reshape socio-economic growth, the more we can accelerate climate progress.


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