COP28: The UAE’s Vision for A Fossil-Free Future – OpEd


The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, currently unfolding in Dubai, holds the promise of a historic breakthrough in the global effort to combat climate change. Hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a nation deeply rooted in the wealth of fossil fuels, this conference is poised to make unprecedented commitments to reducing the gases heating our planet. This article delves into the intricate dynamics of COP28, exploring the cautious optimism expressed by the UAE negotiating team, the challenges in phasing out fossil fuels, and the transformative role played by Sultan al-Jaber, the president of COP28 and head of UAE state oil company Adnoc.

While it might seem logical for a climate conference to focus on eliminating fossil fuels, the reality was quite different until a couple of years ago. These energy sources were rarely discussed, let alone targeted for reduction, at global gatherings. The breakthrough began at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, where the commitment to “phase down” the use of coal was the first formal acknowledgment of the need to address the main source of climate change.

Current Progress at COP28

The UAE negotiating team expresses cautious optimism about COP28 committing to phasing down, and possibly abandoning, fossil fuels over the coming decades. This proposition, although seemingly paradoxical given Dubai’s status as a petrostate, underscores the potential for real progress on climate action. The challenges lie in formulating a commitment without specifying an expiry date and allowing “abated” fossil fuels, where emissions are captured to prevent climate change.

Sultan al-Jaber, as the president of COP28, has been pivotal in driving the vision for a fossil-free future. While the bureaucratic language might have obscured his intentions, he has actively encouraged parties to contribute language for the negotiated text, aiming for a commitment to phase out or down fossil fuels. Al-Jaber’s persistence in pushing for unprecedented actions and transformation underscores his commitment to steering COP28 towards historic decisions.

Challenges and Controversies

Phasing out fossil fuels presents significant challenges, and controversies linger around setting a specific expiry date. The allowance of “abated” fossil fuels adds complexity, as capturing emissions at the required scale remains a technological challenge. However, even without a concrete expiry date, a commitment to addressing the main source of climate change would mark a groundbreaking step forward.

The surprising stance of the UAE, a nation built on oil money, raises questions about its motivation to advocate for a phase-out. Sultan al-Jaber’s recent comments questioning the science of global warming have sparked debates, but his subsequent clarification emphasizes the inevitability of phasing down and out fossil fuels. The UAE’s recognition of the imperative to kick the addiction to unabated fossil fuels aligns with a broader global understanding.

The decisions at COP28 are guided by science, particularly the target of limiting global warming to 1.5C. Prof. Jim Skea, head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, explains the necessity of eliminating unabated coal by 2050, with significant cuts in oil and natural gas. The science-backed approach forms the basis for the UAE’s commitment to transformative action.

The UAE’s ambition to put itself decisively on the right side of history reflects a broader recognition of the world’s need to transition away from unabated fossil fuels. A commitment to phasing down or out fossil fuels at COP28 would have far-reaching implications, signaling a global acknowledgment of the urgency to address climate change. The challenges ahead, both in technological advancements and global cooperation, will test the commitment made at this pivotal conference.


In conclusion, COP28 in Dubai stands at the precipice of a historic breakthrough in the global fight against climate change. The UAE’s vision for a fossil-free future, spearheaded by Sultan al-Jaber, challenges conventional expectations from a petrostate. While challenges and controversies persist, the potential commitment to phasing down or out fossil fuels signals a transformative moment in the pursuit of sustainability. As the world awaits the outcomes of COP28, the decisions made here may well shape the trajectory of climate action for generations to come.

Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai

Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is Senior Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and author of The Troubled Triangle: US-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban’s Shadow. He tweets @yousafzaiZafar5.

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