This position of keeping fossil fuels at the center of climate discussions is not unexpected from leading fossil fuel producers. Such a position is also common among other resource-dependent economies, including India, Norway, Australia and others. Beyond these states, the position is consistent with arguments of the least developed countries for which fossil fuels can offer an affordable solution to energy access, especially the 770 million people without access to electricity and the 2.5 billion people without access to clean cooking fuel.
The position will also be supported by many developing economies (especially those in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia) that seek to develop their own oil, gas, hydrogen or critical minerals resources. Supporters of the ongoing need for fossil fuels will point to a similar argument adapted by Europe in its response to the energy crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Phasing out fossil fuels has seemingly been abandoned as Europe favored energy security over climate targets (for which Europe was accused of hypocrisy in Bonn in June during the lead-up talks to COP27).
COP27 will thus set the stage for other fossil-fuel exporters to attempt to steer climate negotiations. As the host of COP28, the UAE will naturally assume a similar leadership position. For that, it will present itself as the regional pioneer in establishing zero-carbon nuclear power, expanding renewable expansion and co-funding a Renewable Energy Fund that supports renewable energy projects in developing countries.
It will also note that it was the host of the first Middle East and North Africa climate week in March 2022 and the first Gulf state to announce net-zero targets. As an advocate for technology and an aspiring innovation hub for the region, decarbonization technology will be central to the UAE position but without abandoning fossil fuels.
Whether Gulf oil- and gas-exporting economies will meet their ambitious renewable energy, net-zero, and hydrogen targets remains to be seen. And it is not certain that they will become global leaders in energy transitions which will contribute to putting the world on track to avert the worst climate breakdown. Indeed, adherence to climate targets is urgent and requires phasing out fossil fuels altogether. But the use of fossil fuels will offer energy access and continue to attract support – and increasingly so.