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Will the UAE COP28 roadmap help the region for the energy revolution?

September 8, 2023 at 6:30 pm

The first preparatory event of the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP28 UAE) which will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in November, starts, on March 15, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. [Waleed Zein – Anadolu Agency]

This week, a ground-breaking green energy investment of the UAE hit all the media outlets: The UAE has pledged $4.5 billion to help speed up the development of clean energy projects in Africa. This means UAE pitches itself as Africa’s carbon credits leader.

According to the American consultancy, Mckinsey, the initiative aims to increase the number of carbon credits generated on the African continent from 16 million a year in 2020 to around 300 million by 2030.

Why has the UAE started to invest carbon credits? Carbon credits are measurable, verifiable emission reductions from certified climate action projects. How much you invest in carbon credits determines how much you reduce, remove or avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Carbon markets are trading schemes in which carbon allowances are bought and sold. These platforms enable businesses or individuals to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon allowances from those who decrease or sequester such emissions.

Relatedly, before COP28, the UAE wants to take advantage and become a carbon credit leader in the region. In that regard, the UAE and Qatar are competing. Qatar’s Global Carbon Council is also negotiating the listing of its carbon credits on Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) exchanges as the Chief Operating Officer, Kishor Rajhansa told The National last month. 

READ: UAE commits $4.5bn to advance clean energy initiatives in Africa

It is important to highlight that this move by the UAE, as a COP28 host, helps to unlock Africa’s carbon credit generation potential as well as support sustainable investment opportunities and long-term climate impact that carbon markets are a pivotal part of the UAE’s decarbonisation journey. 

Yet, environmental groups in Liberia say the deal could violate multiple laws, including those meant to protect community land rights. According to Liberian Observer, the proposed Blue Carbon deal would be a complete violation of the National Forestry Reform Law because it would cover more than 1 million hectares of forest. The law restricts the size of any concession to not more than 400,000 hectares. That is nearly three times the size of the proposed Blue Carbon deal. On the other hand, the UAE pledges to protect the lands of Africa. 

Last January, COP28 President, Sultan Al Jaber, had split these into highly welcomed four pillars: fast-tracking the energy transition, fixing climate finance, focusing on people’s lives and livelihoods and full inclusivity. 

Al Jaber also emphasised that this effort would entail “the phase down of fossil fuels”, which he said was “inevitable and essential”.

“Recent history has shown that more renewable energy does not automatically translate into less fossil fuels. COP28 will only be a success if its presidency sets aside the interests of the oil and gas industry and facilitates a clear outcome on the need for a decline of all fossil fuel production and use, as well as a rapid phase-in of wind and solar. The only way we’ll build a new energy system that is both clean and fair is by actively phasing out the old.”

To support these policies, last March, the UK and UAE governments also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which will help facilitate the sharing of technical knowledge, advice, skills and expertise, opening up new avenues for cooperation on energy and climate, while boosting jobs and investment in the UK.

READ: Egypt urges developed countries to fulfil $100bn climate finance pledge

100 fossil fuel companies are source of over 70 per cent of emissions. Specifically, when Al Jaber spoke to oil and gas companies earlier this year, he focused on what they could do to make their operations less carbon-intensive, such as improving their extraction efficiency and plugging leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane. These are known as scope 1 emissions in climate jargon – or emissions fully under a company’s control.

Relatedly, from carbon capture to clean energy, fossil fuel majors will have to demonstrate leadership by contributing to the low carbon transition at the scale and pace required. Under the umbrella of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015, fossil fuel extraction companies will need to plan their future in the context of a radical transformation of the global energy system, if the Gulf region wants to get profit from their investments.

Clearly, the UN COP28 summit in the UAE could produce a new global battle plan to curb the worst effects of climate change. It would be a ground-breaking achievement of COP28 if it became the Cop which sets the pace and timeline on consigning fossil fuels to history.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.