What position should the distant observer take on the COP28 conference in Dubai? That the sight of 70,000 delegates flying into a desert oil state from around the world to discuss human impacts on climate change is beyond satire and that its proceedings are never likely to rise above Greta Thunberg’s encapsulation of all such jamborees as ‘blah blah blah’? Or that the climate problem is now so obvious and urgent that all efforts towards global action, however small, should be uncynically applauded?
I leave that choice on the table. But I’m finding it hard to take a positive view of Sultan Al-Jaber, president of the Dubai gathering, who also happens to chair Abu Dhabi’s national oil company, which proposes to double its current output by 2027, and who has denied that the meeting offers useful opportunities to strike new oil and gas deals with visiting nations. Yes, the world needs secure oil supplies until renewable energy sources finally catch up, and yes, Sultan Al-Jaber also happens to run a wind and solar business. But how wrong was Greta to call his appointment ‘completely ridiculous’?
As for his claim to have ‘delivered history’ on the first day of the meeting with the announcement of a $400 million ‘loss and damage fund’ to compensate poorer countries for damage inflicted by climate change, let’s take a closer look. The US, which spends well over $2 billion a day on military budgets, offered $17.5 million towards the fund; the great industrial nation of Japan just $10 million. At $75 per barrel, Abu Dhabi pumps $400 million worth of hydrocarbons in less than two days.
And to add a little more perspective, the new fund is a small fraction of the sum proffered by Abu Dhabi’s vice president Sheikh Mansour to assist the Barclay family in settling their debt to Lloyds Bank relating to ownership of the Telegraph titles and The Spectator, of which more below.