WITH only 10 days to go before the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference opens in Dubai, hundreds of people preparing for the event, which has implications for humankind’s future, had a reality check over the weekend.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms disrupted routine life throughout the United Arab Emirates on Friday. Schools switched to online classes, offices and businesses asked employees to work from home, cars were submerged and civic services were mobilised to ensure the residents’ safety. It was not very long ago that Saudis, Kuwaitis, Emiratis and Bahrainis, richer by the oil boom in the 1970s, travelled to Mumbai to watch the monsoon. They would rent expensive sea-facing rooms at five-star hotels in Nariman Point and Gateway of India and sit on the balconies for hours, simply enjoying the experience of Mumbai’s torrential downpour. Rain was something they did not have back home in the Gulf. That was then. Now, the same people often yearn to escape heavy showers where they live, downpours which cause colossal damage and even loss of lives at times. Residents in the Gulf are living the menacing reality of climate change.
That is a major difference between the upcoming, fortnight-long 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), better known worldwide as COP28, and similar previous conferences. Many countries, especially the rich ones, habitually deliver pious homilies at every COP only to be forgotten until the next such conference is round the corner. They too are experiencing the effects of global warming and other weather challenges, but unlike the UAE, some of them don’t care and others prefer to deal with the symptoms instead of curing the disease. Donald Trump, who may well return in January 2025 as the US President, does not even believe that climate change is real. He pulled the US out of international climate treaties which previous administrations had signed.
The UK is another example. The UK made tall promises about tackling the root causes of climate change when it hosted COP26 in Glasgow two years ago. In retrospect, the UK did this because it did not want the prestigious event it was hosting to end in failure. Those promises, made together with the UK’s fellow members of the rich man’s club, the Group of Seven (G7), only paid lip service to environmental causes. The UK has gone back not only on those promises, but even on earlier ones, which it made at the historic COP21 in 2015, leading to the first legally binding international treaty on climate change, commonly known as the Paris Agreement. A total of 196 parties signed this agreement. Now, UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says those commitments, especially on ‘mitigation’ — reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — are unacceptable in terms of costs they impose on the British people. The UAE, on the other hand, is not only prepared to accept these costs for itself, but also ready, during climate talks, to help others in alleviating the crisis through renewable energy investments, for example.
Until Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed course at COP21 in Paris, India was considered a problem on environmental issues. Now, it is part of the solutions. The UAE, which is hosting the upcoming COP28, is an exemplar of environmental solutions. In fact, India and the UAE are two models for the rest of the world in dealing with what is undeniably an existential challenge before humankind — protection of our planet. That is not the only reason why India is set to play a major role in pushing for collective global action during the COP in Dubai. India’s special relationship with the host country will prompt the Modi government to go the extra mile to make this month-end’s climate change meeting advance the causes for which it is being convened.
In January this year, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE’s Minister for Industry and Advanced Technology, was named President-designate of this month-end’s climate talks. Almost immediately, Al Jaber made his first overseas trip — to India. In Bengaluru, he unveiled his vision for COP28 before an international assembly. It is a gesture that India will not forget. During the past decade, Al Jaber has been a frequent visitor to India. His chemistry with India’s leadership is well-known. In addition to being a Cabinet minister, Al Jaber is Group CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). When Modi was pulling up India’s relations with the UAE by the bootstraps, Al Jaber played a crucial role in transforming the bilateral energy relationship from a mere buyer-seller arrangement into one where ADNOC guaranteed India’s energy security. This augurs well for India and the UAE jointly advancing their shared, critical interests during COP28.
With Al Jaber’s support as COP President, India is hoping that a paradigm shift in the international climate regime, complementing a country-centric approach with a people-centric approach, can be universalised. Central to that approach is the Modi government’s Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) movement. This people-oriented movement aims to promote a sustainable, low-consumption and healthy lifestyle. If LiFE gets global endorsement at COP28, it will be in direct contrast — in a Gandhian manner of thought and action — to the unsustainable, wasteful and consumerist lifestyle in rich countries that is guaranteed to further deplete resources on our planet.
In turn, the UAE is hoping for India’s support for its COP presidency, which may have to navigate choppy waters because the incumbent is the Chief Executive of Abu Dhabi’s national oil company. Uniquely, this oil company CEO is also the leader of his country’s renewable energy mission. Al Jaber was the first Chief Executive and later Chairman of Masdar, the UAE’s renewable energy company, which has projects in 40 countries. At COP28, he hopes to make the global fossil fuel industry partner with seemingly irreconcilable opponents in achieving a smoother and swifter green transition. The UAE is known as a country of oil production and export, but it also has West Asia’s first nuclear power plant. The UAE has the financial resources and the strength to bring in cleaner technologies for the environment. COP28 has the potential to deliver more than any previous such conference since the Paris COP eight years ago.
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