The plan covers all the main aspects of climate action, based on the 2015 Paris agreement, now divided into what Al Jaber termed the four pillars, or four Fs: fast-tracking the transition to a low-CO2 world; fixing climate finance; focusing on people, lives and livelihoods; and full inclusivity.
The Cop president’s plan was broadly welcomed by experts and civil society on Thursday. Harjeet Singh of the Climate Action Network said: “[It] sends the right signals about the key elements required for a successful climate summit. [But] while the broad contours are positive, the devil will be in the details.”
Here is a breakdown of the details.
The 1.5C goal
The Paris agreement required countries to hold global temperature rises “well below 2C” above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” to stay within 1.5C. Since 2015, science has shown that 2C would entail calamitous impacts, so at Cop26 in 2021 governments agreed to focus on the more stringent goal of 1.5C.
Last year, some governments tried to unpick that commitment to 1.5C, so Al Jaber made clear from the outset that his plan was based on the tougher, and safer, goal. “This plan is guided by a single north star, and that is keeping 1.5C within reach,” he told ministers.
Kate Hampton, chief executive of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, who worked unpaid on the plan, said: “The commitment to 1.5C is particularly important – the presidency has recognised it is time to accelerate the essential and inevitable end for fossil fuels. The challenge now for the presidency is to ensure delivery across a comprehensive agenda, which can only be achieved with a transformational plan for mobilising finance.”
At Cop28, governments will conduct for the first time a “global stocktake” that will set out the progress countries have made on the emissions reduction commitments – known as “nationally determined contributions” or NDCs – they made in Paris.
The stocktake is certain to find that the world is way off track to meet its Paris goals, but the Cop presidency has decided against naming and shaming individual countries. Instead, all countries will be required to submit updated NDCs in September, that are sufficiently tough to meet the 1.5 goal.
UAE has submitted a revision to its NDC, with emissions reductions of 40% compared with business as usual.
Phase out or phase down?
Al Jaber emphasised that this effort would entail “the phase down of fossil fuels”, which he said was “inevitable and essential”.
The wording is significant. Al Jaber was heavily criticised two months ago for repeatedly referring to the “phase out of fossil fuel emissions”, which observers took to mean that oil and gas companies could carry on extracting fossil fuels as long as the resulting carbon dioxide was somehow captured. But scientists have warned against using carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) as a “free lunch” to excuse continued extraction.
The phrasing “phase down” will also disappoint campaigners and the 80-plus countries who want Cop28 to pass a commitment to phasing out fossil fuels entirely.
Commitments to double energy efficiency, triple renewable energy capacity to 11,000GW globally, and double hydrogen production to 180m tonnes a year by 2030 will be put to governments at Cop28, and are expected to be agreed.
Romain Ioualalen, global policy lead at Oil Change International, said: “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.”
Fossil fuel companies
As well as leading Cop28, Al Jaber is chief of the UAE’s national oil and gas company, Adnoc. He has spearheaded an attempt to bring fossil fuel executives to Cop28, arguing that they must have a place at the table, despite the misgivings of many campaigners.
He wants to formulate a plan with the world’s biggest oil and gas producers – both nationally owned and private sector – to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5C. If this can be agreed, it would be an astonishing step forward for climate action.
Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “There has been criticism of Al Jaber’s links with the national oil company, claiming they prevent him from being a credible Cop president. But this speech shows detailed ambitions for progress on the major issues, including a recognition of the need for oil companies to be part of the solution. If Cop28 does deliver all the ambitions outlined, it would be one of the most important summits in history.”
However, critics are concerned that oil and gas companies will seize on the chance to be allowed into the Cop28 discussions, while agreeing only minimal changes to their operations and soaring profits.
Singh said: “If keeping global warming below 1.5C is to be the north star of this summit, it effectively means no new fossil fuel projects. This implies a just and equitable fossil fuel phaseout, ambitious targets for sustainably scaling up renewables, and adequate finance to implement this plan.”
‘All emissions, everywhere’
Initially, 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.
Critics pointed out, however, that this ignored by far the greatest impact of fossil fuels, which comes when they are consumed and produce CO2 – known as “scope 3” emissions. (Scope 2 emissions are those coming from the purchase of energy from outside sources.)
On Thursday, Al Jaber promised these would be included:
“Let us end the reductive discussion of scope 1 v scope 2 v scope 3. We need to attack all emissions, everywhere: one, two and three.”
Developing countries are already facing devastation from the impacts of the climate crisis, and they lack the finance to shift their economies to a low-CO2 footing. But the climate finance currently available to them is too little, too hard to access, and skewed towards the richer among them.
Al Jaber called for “a comprehensive transformation” of the World Bank and other international finance institutions, and for private sector funding to be brought in.
He wants to ensure that a longstanding commitment by rich countries to provide $100bn (£76.5bn) a year to poor nations, which was supposed to be met in 2020 but has not yet been achieved, is finally delivered. He also repeated the demand by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, for a doubling of finance for developing countries to adapt to climate impacts.
Last year at Cop27, nations agreed to set up a fund for loss and damage, meaning the rescue and rehabilitation of countries stricken by the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Al Jaber said it was “absolutely imperative” that the means to fill this fund should be agreed at Cop28, with a view to disbursing the first cash soon after.
UAE is not a democracy, and civil expression is tightly controlled. Al Jaber reassured civil society groups that they would be welcomed at Cop28, highlighting the role of Indigenous people, youth and faith-based organisations, along with mayors and local leaders.
Inclusivity for UAE also involves private sector companies, however, including oil companies, which climate campaigners and some governments are less keen on.
Singh said: “We must ensure that Cop28 is free from the influence of the fossil fuel industry and holds these polluters accountable.”
Alok Sharma, the former UK minister and president of Cop26, took a more positive view, saying: “It would be a remarkable achievement of Cop28 if it became the Cop which sets the pace and timeline on consigning fossil fuels to history.”