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Woke warriors fall for Dubai’s cynical greenwashing


IT SHOULD come as no surprise to the cynical that this year’s COP28 host, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, CEO of the state-owned United Arab Emirates oil company Adnoc, is seeking to secure new oil and gas projects while simultaneously showcasing flagship sustainability projects. A vast solar park, part of Dubai’s Net Zero Emissions Strategy 2050, is in its fourth stage of development and will also produce green hydrogen. The ‘innovative Net Zero smart city’ of Masdar is due for completion by 2030. 

Sultan Al-Jaber told Reuters: ‘One size fits all will not work so we have to be flexible and agile.’  Running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, he certainly is. The Financial Times describes the meeting as ‘cheque book COP’ and sees it as the ‘UAE’s $200billion bid for climate influence’. 

With a sovereign wealth fund worth some $422billion at his disposal, Al-Jaber has the money to buy it. Dubai’s transformation continues, from a poor desert trading port with a population of 86,000 to an opulent (high carbon footprint) metropolis of 3million, 68,000 of whom are tax exempt millionaires against 86 per cent who are migrants, including 132,000 slaves according to Global Slavery Index. 

Are estimates that Dubai’s oil resources will be exhausted by 2045 – forecasts which have historically proved to be inaccurate – sufficient to explain the country’s new-found zeal for reduced carbon emissions? Or is this green virtue-signalling by a nation that still makes its huge wealth from oil but wants to stay a global magnet for travel, trade and social influencers with all their associated emissions? With its breathtaking architecture, opulent lifestyles and wealth, this gleaming city attracts more than 14million visitors every year, that topped a handy US$5billion in the first half of 2022.

How ironic, but in keeping, that a place of such extravagant excesses is playing host to an entourage of 70,000 woke climate change warriors. For all its high-profile green-flagged projects the UAE still has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world at 21.8tonnes C02 per capita although it aims for a 33 per cent reduction by 2030. As the climate apostles gather to enjoy their air-conditioned accommodation and desalinated showers while marvelling at their surroundings, it is doubtful if they will get sight of the squalid homes of the tens of thousands of migrant construction workers who built this wonder city while being cruelly exploited, overworked and underpaid. 

How many will have read any of the scientific papers such as the Marine Pollution Bulletin from Science Direct that have highlighted the escalating negative environmental impacts to aquatic life in the Persian Gulf from the millions of gallons of chemically polluted, highly concentrated brine from desalination plants? While they gaze in awe at the vast expanse of more than three million solar panels covering some 2,000 hectares (2,500 football pitches) will they pause to consider the energy and water demands embedded in their manufacture, or the resultant toxic waste and damage to human health? Or the safe disposal of 78million tonnes of photovoltaic waste that will have accumulated globally by 2030?

Mindful of the need to be seen to reduce their carbon footprint, Dubai will obviously make much of their flagship projects whether or not they really do so. Some of their innovations may have merit but the overall reality is that what they amount to is corporate greenwashing and self-interest. These temples to the green god of COP will have no significant impact on global temperature or on the course of natural climate change. The one certainty is that the Net Zero targets they claim to meet will have ever more negative socio/economic implications for the poorest, who without cheap energy at home will be forced on the migrant path to the still better-off West.

Postscript: The joyous announcement that the UAE had pledged $100million to the Loss and Damage Fund (to help the poorest countries deal with the impact of ‘climate disaster) was greeted by rapturous applause from COP28 on Friday. In reality it is little more than loose change to them considering that Adnoc boasted $802million in net profits last year – a 33 per cent rise from 2021 – and a perfect illustration of the rank hypocrisy and virtue-signalling that is the UAE’s hosting of COP28.

Rather less rapturous however was the reaction to a somewhat unexpected spanner in the works hurled into the conference by Al Jaber himself. With devastating honesty (for such events as these) he told the delegates that a phase-out of fossil fuels would not allow sustainable development ‘unless you want to take the world back into caves’. Furthermore, he said, in a very direct exchange, that he’d accepted to come to ‘this meeting to have a sober and mature conversation’, that he was ‘not in any way signing up to any discussion that is alarmist’ and, for final effect, that ‘there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.’

Needless to say the faithful were not amused. The comments were ‘incredibly concerning’ and ‘verging on climate denial’ which (horror upon horrors) were at odds with the position of the UN secretary general, António Guterres.

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Neil Bryce
Neil Bryce
Neil Bryce is a retired farm manager with a long-term interest in environmental matters.

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