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COP28: Time for action towards a just transition with no one left behind

Published May 9, 2023


By Mahash Al Hameli

At the end of the year, South African delegates will be joining their international colleagues in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for the all-important 28th Conference of the Parties (COP 28).

It is a most important time for many reasons; our world is at increasing risk. We see and we live through the consequences of climate change all about us in the increase in scope, scale and occurrence of extreme weather events.

South Africa knows all about this: from monsoons off the east coast to droughts on the west coast. The country has also had the privilege of hosting this gathering itself; COP 17 in Durban, 12 years ago.

The beginning of the COP journey can be traced back to COP3 in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. This was the beginning of the world’s awareness of the need to act as one in the face of climate change.

COP 21, in Paris in 2015, signified a transition from awareness to commitment, but COP 28 this year in Dubai will be the moment for action. It is truly a milestone opportunity for the world to come together, course correct and drive progress. It will be a time for courage and a time for ambition to bring about the plan to bring the global climate warming target of 1.5°C within reach.

We need to triple global renewables by 2030 and six times by 2040. We have to double hydrogen production by 2030 and build on the hydrogen value chain. We need to reduce emissions in the systems we depend on today.

But most of all, COP28 must ensure that no one is left behind. This has to be a COP of action and a COP for all.

There are those who ask, why hold COP 28 in the UAE, after all we are in a desert and we are an oil producing country?

Both of these assertions are true, but they ignore very real facts about the UAE, chief among which is our track record in literally transforming the desert and what were once seaside fishing villages into an ultramodern society atop an oasis where there was once only sand.

They ignore the progress we have made in our investments in renewable energies and our commitment to transition away from producing and shipping oil in its current form.

As our president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has already committed, 2050 will be the last shipment of oil from our country. Today, more than 70% of the UAE’s economy is non-oil based. The country is one of the leading investors worldwide in renewable energy and operates three of the world’s largest and lowest cost solar plants in the world.

The UAE’s leading renewable energy company, Masdar, has already helped develop, secure and install more than 20GW of renewable energy in more than 40 countries.

By 2030, our own installed capacity of clean energy will be 14GW. We are further committed to reducing the carbon intensity of our hydrocarbon operations by a further 25% over then 10 years.

UAE produced oil is among the least carbon intensive internationally, with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc)’s crude grade, Murban, being less than half the industry average.

Combating climate change is vital for the UAE. We live in one of the harshest climates in the world - this was a desert after all, which is why climate action has been central to our country’s development ever since the formation of the UAE in 1971.

The country’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was a pioneering conservationist who famously said: “Now, we live on this blessed land and we are responsible for preserving our environment and wildlife not only for ourselves but also for our children and grandchildren. It is our obligation to be loyal to both our forefathers and grandchildren.

“Conserving the environment should not be through a celebratory speech, but should become part of the every-day life of this nation’s sons and daughters who have not saved any active participation in the efforts put forth by Government, in order to preserve the environment for them and their grandchildren.”

He established nature reserves and lent his name to the Zayed Sustainability Prize which continues to this day. The UAE pioneered zero gas flaring, setting the benchmark for the oil industry and our energy diversification programme was put in place more than 20 years ago.

We were the first country in the gulf region to sign the Paris Agreement and the first thereafter to chart a strategic pathway to 2050. We were the first to commit to an economy-wide reduction in emissions by 2030 and the first to announce a 30x30 biodiversity target.

Our National Net Zero by 2050 Pathway, which sets the timeframe and mechanisms for the UAE Net Zero Strategic Initiative, demonstrates that we know how to achieve this, through focusing on a clean energy mix and nature based and industrial Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) systems.

As it is, we are a pioneer in the use of commercial scale carbon capture and can capture 800 000 tonnes of CO2 every year. The UAE was also one of only 29 countries across the world, to submit a second nationally determined contribution (NDC) ahead of last year’s COP27 in Egypt. We expect this enhanced target to amount to an absolute emission reduction of 93,2 million metric tonnes of CO2.

The UAE is also well on track to plant 100-million mangrove trees by 2030 which we launched with Indonesia at COP27 last year through the Mangrove Alliance for Climate. This will both help to prevent coastal erosion and protect biodiversity, while also acting as natural carbon sinks, capturing more carbon per hectare than rainforests do. All of this is part and parcel of balancing economic growth with environmental sustainability – with climate action at the very heart of all that we do.

Being environmentally conscious has also made business sense, creating unprecedented opportunities for economic growth, security and job creation which can be seen by the fact that the UAE has successfully diversified its economy and effectively almost entirely transitioned away from being solely an oil producer dependent on hydrocarbons for its revenue.

Climate change is a harsh reality for the UAE, over and above the desert in which we sit, we are also at great risk from rising sea levels, water scarcity and even hotter temperatures. Our region is doubling at twice the global rate.

Hosting COP28 is more than an honour for us and an affirmation of the strides that we have made as a country in this regard, it is also a clarion call for us to reach out to help where we can.

Africa is a place where we can be of great assistance because the continent bears an unequal share of the climate change burden too.

Regionally, South Africa has led the African position on COP that the continent should be heard in all discussions. The UAE supports this approach and thus we assert that at COP28 all parties must be given the platform to contribute to the discussion and no one should be left behind.

As a continental leader, South Africa plays a critical role in leading the drive towards an equitable and sustainable climate. Domestically, the government is focused on advancing a Just and Equitable Transition towards a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy.

The launch of the Just Energy Transition Investment Programme on the sidelines of COP27 in Egypt was a welcome step towards implementing the nation’s commitments to climate change.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that South Africa is determined to become a world leader in green hydrogen citing that the country has the potential to produce six to 13 million tons of green hydrogen and derivatives a year by 2050.

The UAE is open to collaborating with our partner South Africa in its climate transition optimising on our experience and knowledge from our climate transition.

South Africa is a vital partner for us in the greater MEA region to make a very real contribution to creating the better life for all that Nelson Mandela spent his life trying to achieve.

It has to start with fixing the planet and COP 28 in Dubai later this year is going to be a critical milestone on humanity’s long walk to freedom.

* HE Mahash Al Hameli is the UAE Ambassador to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.