Can COP 28 steer climate change back on course?

A top official of upcoming international climate negotiations hopes to prove critics wrong and surprise them with a “course correction” for an ever-warming world.

But don't expect that big a turn.

Adnan Amin, who is the CEO and number two official at the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai in late November and December, said he also knows what activists, critics and the head of the United Nations really want - a phase out of fossil fuels that cause climate change. He said it looks unlikely.

Yet Amin said while an agreement ridding the world of fossil fuels doesn't look likely, something less, like a “phase down of fossil fuels is inevitable."

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Amin demonstrated how the leadership of the climate talks is trying to thread a shifting diplomatic needle and praised steps in a decarbonising direction, however small.

Amin’s boss, the COP28 president, is an oil executive while Amin was the founding director of the UNs renewable energy agency. The talks are being hosted by petrostate United Arab Emirates.

Kenya-born Amin is quick to defend COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, pointing out that al-Jaber also runs a renewable energy company and was key in the founding of the UN’s renewable energy agency in the UAE. He will surprise critics, Amin said.

In 10 years when critics and others look back at the talks, Amin wants to hear amazement.

“I hope they will be saying that ‘We didn’t think that an oil producing country could achieve an outcome on climate of this sort. We didn’t think that a process that we thought was blah blah (the words activist Greta Thunberg used to describe climate negotiations) could achieve an outcome of this sort’,” Amin said.

It all comes down to the role of coal, oil and natural gas, the nations that rely on them and the companies that profit from them.

Fossil fuel interests

Amin welcomes fossil fuel interests to negotiations, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, activists and some scientists literally want them gone. They say a phase out of fossil fuels is the only way to curb warming to a manageable level.

But given oppositions by some countries and the climate talks requirement to act by consensus - so one nation can stop everything - it’s unlikely that a phase out will be approved, Amin said.

He pointed to the desire by some African countries to use fossil fuels to develop. Rich nations already emitted heat-trapping gases to develop and it’s not fair to ask Africa to forego that without massive financial aid to help them leapfrog to clean energy, he said.

Amin said upcoming climate talks aim to be the most inclusive ever, including more youth involvement, but that also includes the at-times vilified fossil fuel industry.

“We believe that the oil and gas industry needs to be part of the climate equation,” Amin said. “We’re engaging with them to see if we can get them to commit to, you know, more rapid decarbonisation of their operations.”

Amin said he understands the angst and anger of young people. It’s their future, so they will have more of an official role in this year's negotiations than in the past, he said.

Key performance indicators

Amin said he will consider the upcoming talks a success if it does four things: Fix and increase the climate financial aid from rich nations to poor; Decarbonise energy systems more; Increase funding for nations to adapt to a more dangerous and warming world, especially the hunger and health problems; And include more groups into the negotiations.

Fixing climate change is a painstakingly slow process, but progress has been made because of past agreements in 2015 and 1997, Amin said.

“There is a lot of impatience given the scale of the crisis,” Amin said. “The multilateral system moves slowly, but it moves.”