‘Very worrying’ that UAE could use Cop28 host role to strike oil deals – Mary Robinson

Timed phase-out of fossil fuels needed, and should be progressed at climate summit, conference told

A BBC report indicating UAE plans to use its role as Cop28 hosts as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals is “very worrying and inappropriate”, according to former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Responding to leaked briefing documents suggesting UAE plans to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations in Dubai, Mrs Robinson said Cop28, opening on Thursday, was “already somewhat compromised”.

Sultan Al Jaber is the president of Cop28, a meeting intended to co-ordinate global responses to the climate crisis, and also chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

Speaking at the Sustainable Futures Forum at UCC, Mrs Robinson said: “It’s very worrying because perceptions matter ... and this may make that situation even more difficult. We have no time for a bad Cop. We have to have as much progress as possible because we’re running out of time.”


She said a Cop president should not use the office to negotiate private deals with oil and gas companies. “That’s not correct and it’s not appropriate. I don’t think it has happened before. The focus should be on a much more progressive Cop, including phasing out fossil fuel.”

She added: “We have to focus on what needs to happen. It’s such an important Cop because of the [global] stocktake. So we have to look at where we are, and we know that we’re not at all where we should be.”

The stocktake shows emissions are set to increase by 9 per cent between now and 2030, instead of reducing by up to 45 per cent, she said. “That’s a huge, huge gap.”

Despite the controversy she said a lot of discussion would be about clean energy though fossil fuel companies had accrued “disgusting profits” in the past year totalling $4 trillion. “We’ll hear we may treble access to clean energy. All of that is positive, but it’s not happening fast enough. We’ve got to use our energies to focus on cutting emissions, phasing out fossil fuel with just transition for the workers and just transition into clean, accessible, affordable, clean energy,” she said.

After a year of extreme weather events she hoped EU efforts to get agreement on tripling renewable energy by 2030 would not be derailed. “We have seen not just extremes, but scientists are bowled over by how bad it is and it’s out of anything they thought would be possible at this time. So we’re running out of time.”

Mrs Robinson, chair of the Elders, a group of former global leaders devoted to causes of peace and justice, said the Paris Agreement had been secured when a deal looked unlikely but emerged when a broad movement successfully applied pressure, which was a lesson for Cop28. “We need to get pressure for phasing out fossil fuel with just transition. It won’t be immediate. It’ll be planned and it’ll be just and equitable. And then we’re in a different ballgame. And we can do that with a compromised presidency, believe me.”

Cop28 was starting in a better place because of progress made on the terms of a loss of damage fund for climate vulnerable countries. “Now we just need to see the money into a fund,” she said.

On risk the Gaza conflict will be a distraction and heighten tensions, the former president said: “I worry about it. I think we have to persuade young people in particular who are very passionate on this issue and understandably so. And I am too. We have to tell them it’s not morally indefensible to stay strategic. We have to stay strategic because we have no choice. We have to get out of fossil fuel as quickly as possible for their future.”

Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir, director of UCC’s Environmental Research Institute, said Ireland was “not on track to meet our statutory carbon budget target for the period 2021-2025. This is a real test of our climate ambition.

UCC is sending a delegation of students, academics, and researchers to Cop28 and this year has redistributed three of its badges granting access to COP to climate activists from Columbia, Kenya, and South Africa to increase representation of people from the Global South at the discussions.

“We have collectively the necessary knowledge, financial resources and technologies. Unfortunately however, we haven’t managed to muster the necessary levels of political will, or build sufficient societal capacity to achieve the goals we have agreed on,” he added.

“As we approach Cop28 I hope to see the world leaders agree on a timed phase-out of fossil fuels – this would be a very significant breakthrough on a matter resisted to date,” Prof Ó Gallachóir said.

Meanwhile, representatives from environmental umbrella group will tell an Oireachtas Committee on Tuesday that the State will need to pay between €1.5 billion and €2.5 billion each year from 2030 to compensate regions of the world most badly affected by climate change.

Stop Climate Chaos, which is comprised of a number of development agencies, will appear before the all-party Committee on the Environment and Climate Change tomorrow to talk about the United Nations COP 28 conference on tackling global warming which begins in Dubai this week.

Trócaire and Christian Aid jointly commissioned a report seeking to calculate the amount Ireland should pay as a fair share to loss and damage suffered by the most badly impacted countries.

The agencies will tell the committee that the report concluded that the finance will be at least €1.5 billion per annum by 2030 and could be as much as €2.5 billion, according to some modelling.

The group will press Ireland to push for greater focus on COP 28 producing specific targets for contributions by developed countries as well as for a UN-led Loss and Damage Finance Gap report.

The committee will also hear arguments for laws to prevent Irish companies and fund managers from investing in fossil fuel companies.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times