Climate and Environment

COP28 president 'cautiously optimistic' on success of key climate conference

Ivan Couronne, Benjamin Legendre - Agence France-Presse
COP28 president 'cautiously optimistic' on success of key climate conference
COP28 President Dr. Sultan Al Jaber speaks during the second Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, in New York City on September 19, 2023.
AFP/Zak Bennett

PARIS, France — The UAE's Sultan Al Jaber, the president of the forthcoming UN climate conference in Dubai, is "cautiously optimistic" that the pivotal talks will be successful, he told AFP in an interview on Saturday.

Jaber, CEO of Emirati oil giant ADNOC, said he would hold "everyone" accountable for keeping within reach the target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting the rise in the Earth's average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

QUESTION: COP28 is due to start in Dubai in five days' time. How far are we from reaching a consensus? 

ANSWER: I am cautiously optimistic. You can see and feel the great momentum we have -- the transitional committee (responsible for setting up a fund to help vulnerable countries cope) has resulted in a very positive outcome.  

I have conducted a very successful visit to the European Union, when they (made) a significant financial commitment to support the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund.  

You have seen the announcements made by the United States and China and how they're cooperating in the lead-up to COP28.  

You have seen the OECD report in regard to the $100 billion (the amount rich countries have committed to providing each year for climate action in poorer nations). 

I was very pleased and encouraged by the signals that came out of the US-China meetings (in November). There is the methane summit agreement. There is a clear understanding between both that that they will work in a collaborative manner to ensure the success (of) COP28.  

I want a high ambition outcome at COP28. And I do expect that we will be able to collectively agree on a tangible climate action plan.  

We are making very good progress across energy, finance, health, food and nature agendas. 

Q: How do the Israel-Hamas war and other international crises affect the COP talks? 

A: I am hopeful that COP28 will be the multilateral platform that will deliver good news to the world. The world has had enough of polarisation and divide.

Q: How do you see this COP summit compared to COP21 that led to the Paris Agreement in 2015? 

A: We are halfway from Paris to 2030. We have had seven years and we will have another seven years. So this is an inflection point.  

This is the most consequential COP since Paris. And it is our responsibility to make sure that we maximise the ambition coming out of COP28. 

Q: You consistently say the negotiations are driven by the parties, the nation states, but your predecessor in Paris, Laurent Fabius, says a COP president can have a major impact on unblocking negotiations. 

A: I have been very clear from day one that while this is a party-driven process and I will enable all parties to engage and to collaborate... I will hold everyone and every industry responsible and accountable for keeping (the) 1.5C within reach.  

I have learned over the past year that I need to give the process its time and I need to help rebuild trust and deliver action by being cooperative and being inclusive. 

Q: Will fossil fuels be the most contentious issue? 

A: It is actually up to the parties to align on any language related to any of the pillars or the negotiated outcomes. For fossil fuels, I have extended an open invitation to all parties to convene, to discuss, to cooperate, and to come back with recommendations that have common ground and consensus that can be recommended to the presidency. 

Q: Many people are alarmed by the massive presence of industry lobbyists at COP28 and their power to influence the negotiations. 

A: Everyone needs to be part of this process and everyone needs to be held responsible and... accountable.  

And that includes all industries and in particular heavy emitting industries like aviation, transportation, aluminium, cement, steel, as well as oil and gas industry. 

Everyone must be consulted. Everyone must be given the opportunity to contribute.

Q: What progress would you like to see on climate finance, a key negotiating issue between North and South? 

A: The climate finance challenge is a top priority... We must continue to progress on looking for finance to support the transition (to clean energy). 

I'm also hearing positive responses to my inquiries to many countries. There will be some other commitments.  

I believe we will see further momentum on Green Climate Fund replenishment and on the global goal on adaptation. 

At COP28, we are actually working on parallel financial tracks that will help restore trust as well as develop a new framework for climate finance. 

We also need to encourage private-sector funding. We need to help risk-mitigate private capital, to provide the hedging mechanisms to protect the private sector. 

Q: Negotiators approved a fragile compromise on how the new Loss and Damage Fund will function in Abu Dhabi on November 4. That compromise has still to be approved at the summit. Do you hope to seal a deal on this at the very beginning of the COP? 

A: Is that what I aim to do? Absolutely. But it is a party-driven process and I will do everything to give such good and positive momentum very early on. 

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