Climate diplomats’ jaws dropped collectively to the floor when they learned earlier this year that of all people, oil CEO Sultan Al Jaber would become the next president of the UN climate conference  – COP28. Al Jaber heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the world’s third largest expander of fossil fuels

Today, these climate diplomats and about 40 ministers from across the globe gather in Berlin for the Petersberg Dialogue. This meeting, hardly known outside of diplomatic circles, is an essential part of the road to COP28: Here key ministers and diplomats will identify priorities for the big climate conference later in Dubai. Equitable phase out of fossil fuels and renewable energy targets are both on the agenda. Ministers must make good use of this opportunity and lay out clear expectations:

To keep global heating to 1.5°C, COP28 must deliver a cover decision to equitably phase out all fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – and establish the goal to install 1.5 Terawatt (TW) of renewable energy yearly for 2030 and beyond. 

COP28 is also the moment of the first Global Stocktake – the big, collective assessment of where we are at in reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement. Spoiler alert! Way off. UN climate chief Simon Stiell has highlighted the urgent need for a “course correction”. The logical conclusion can only be to address the root cause of the climate crisis, fossil fuels while also providing an ambitious 2030 target for the solution, renewable energy.

Therefore, COP28 must agree in its cover decision to

  • just and equitably phase-out of all fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas before 2050, with significant reductions to be achieved in line with the need to reduce emissions by at least 43% by 2030 compared to 2019 to reach the 1.5°C target
    • alongside an urgent and just phase-out of all fossil-fuel subsidies and other harmful subsidies.
    • Acknowledge that reducing the carbon intensity of fossil fuel production is insufficient, as the vast majority of emissions associated with fossil fuels are those resulting from them being burned, and so it is possible to reduce carbon intensity while increasing total climate pollution. 
  • Decide to set a global target to yearly install 1.5 Terawatt of Renewable Energy globally from 2030 onwards, including subgoals for wind and solar energy, 
    • Including also an energy efficiency, the by far largest short-term and mid-term technological cost-effective options for meeting the 1.5°C pathway as shown recently by the IPCC.

Both goals must be underpinned by real finance and establish accountability and concrete follow-up to implement these goals. The Mitigation and Just Transition Work Program of the UNFCCC can harbor such follow-up and ensure accountability. Just Energy Transition Partnerships and the concomitant finance commitments must be aligned with these goals.

We know that investment needs for 1.5 C trajectories require about a tripling globally to USD 4.5 trillion annually for the clean energy efficiency and renewable energy objectives as assessed by IPCC and IEA recently.  This sounds a lot, but these are investments and not costs. Such investment bring a multitude of returns, environmentally, socially and economically with reduced fossil fuel import prices, significantly declined health costs and avoided externalities from climate damages and conventional air pollution by fossil fuels which are larger than these investments as outlined by the IMF, not exactly a radical climate organization.

But what are the chances to land the much-needed fossil fuel phase-out and an ambitious renewable target at COP28 in Dubai?

At the last climate conference in Egypt, over 80 countries demanded the phase-out of all fossil fuels. Yet, the Egyptian COP Presidency comfortably hid behind very few blockers, like Saudi Arabia and Russia. The Russian negotiator stated the world could not afford to phase out fossil fuels “to not worsen the energy situation” – we assume without any irony. For the oil CEO COP28 president to not be able to again hide behind the same few blockers with vested interests, negotiators must go a step further and form a strong united coalition for a cover decision to phase out all fossil fuels and an ambitious renewable target. Having the support of more than  80 countries is a strong basis to achieve this.

Countries like Kenya and Colombia have emerged as renewable energy champions. What’s more, an increasing number of countries demand a 2030 landmark renewable target. The EU, and namely countries like Denmark and Germany (the Petersberg co-host) came forward to suggest 1TW yearly installment by 2030.

This is a step in the right direction yet falls short of what is needed. The IEA energy scenario in line with 1.5°C suggests 1.2TW. However, this scenario includes the growth of unsustainable biomass, nuclear and energy-related CCS. The world can’t afford to fall for false, expensive solutions and dangerous distractions. We need 1.5TW of clean renewable energy to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The recent IPCC was a final wake-up call for the decisive decade. Sultan Al Jaber so far has rather hit the snooze button. It’s long past time for Al Jaber to wake up.