The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken a step towards stronger targets for the phase-out of fossil fuels, but they will only apply to those produced without capturing emissions. 

The government plans to phase out fossil fuels produced without emissions capture by 2050. The news comes as the UAE president of the UN climate summit, COP28, is increasingly under fire for a potential conflict of interests resulting from his role as CEO of a major oil company. 

The UAE has also set targets to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030 and double energy efficiency by the same year

The UAE Energy Minister and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Sultan Al Jaber, met with ministers in Brussels on Thursday to lay out plans for this year’s COP28 climate summit. 

“We must be brutally honest about the gaps that need to be filled, the root causes and how we got to this place here today,” Al Jaber told ministers

Representatives from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Kenya, Malawi and Vanuatu have called on Al Jaber to ensure that the COP28 summit succeeds, in a letter published in the Financial Times on 13 July. 

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The letter calls for a tripling of global renewable deployment, the phase out of all “unabated” fossil fuels, and financial incentives for developing countries.  

“Cop28 will not be easy: no industrial revolution has ever been straightforward. But we have faith that governments want a cleaner, safer, prosperous and fairer world –let’s get to work,” the letter reads. 

Calls for greater ambition 

In June, ministers met for the Bonn Climate Change Conference, a halfway point before COP28. Many were left disappointed by a lack of ambition from the conference’s host nation. 

In a letter to ministers, Al Jaber said that his plans for the conference would accelerate “the inevitable and responsible phase-down of all fossil fuels” and lead to “an energy system free of unabated fossil fuels in the middle of this century”. He claims that these changes would limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed under the Paris climate agreement. 

Campaigners remain unconvinced; in a statement in response to Al Jaber’s comments this week, executive director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative Alex Rafalowicz called for stronger commitments.  

“If COP28’s main goal is to ensure we honour the commitment to 1.5°C, this can only be achieved by a commitment to stop any new fossil fuel projects from today,” he said. “The UAE should do this, and the USA should do this, every country must. So-called ‘climate leaders’ need to stop using these forums as a performance stage and stop new fossil fuel projects.”