UAE is about making things happen, says envoy Alshaali on outcomes at COP28 | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

UAE is about making things happen, says envoy Alshaali on outcomes at COP28

Dec 08, 2023 07:12 PM IST

UAE ambassador Abdulnasser Jamal Alshaali said many outcomes under India’s G20 presidency overlapped with its efforts under COP28 to address the global climate crisis

NEW DELHI: India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can look at the possibility of working on climate mitigation projects in third countries as they focus on joint efforts to address the impact of climate change, UAE ambassador Abdulnasser Jamal Alshaali has said. With India expected to be one of the countries to benefit from the UAE’s Alterra Fund, a $30-billion climate finance vehicle aimed at mobilising investments to fight climate change, Alshaali said in an interview that many of the outcomes under India’s G20 presidency overlapped with the UAE’s efforts under COP28 to address the global climate crisis. Edited excerpts:

UAE ambassador Abdulnasser Jamal Alshaali (X/aj_alshaali)
UAE ambassador Abdulnasser Jamal Alshaali (X/aj_alshaali)

What are the major outcomes from COP28 so far, and how do you see the breakthrough on the loss and damage fund?

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Making [the fund] operational is a huge milestone, especially since there were quite a few conversations around it – Is this going to work? Is it not going to work? How are we going to make it work? If it works, are countries going to commit certain amounts and pledge to certain projects? So, the fact that we managed to come out of COP28, as one of the main outcomes, with an operational loss and damage fund, and already more than $700 million committed to it, and $100 million of that coming from the UAE itself, [is an outcome]. Then you have a few declarations which tens of countries have signed on to. We have agriculture and food with more than 130 countries, we have climate and health with more than 120 countries. We have the climate finance one, which India obviously supported us on, and signed on to with 13 countries. We have 50 companies who have signed on to the oil and gas decarbonisation charter. All in all, even though we’re still not at the finish line yet, I think the momentum is there and you can see there are quite a few things that have been pushed forward.

There’s been a lot of talk that COP28 was more about implementing decisions and pledges made at past COPs. How do you see this shift towards implementation?

The UAE is about making things happen. If you look at the overall journey that the country has taken, or the previous events we have hosted and things that have taken place in the UAE – it’s not about getting commitments and pledges from countries or going big on announcements or going big on what we could possibly do. It’s a matter of -- can we come out of COP28 with tangible outcomes, with things that people could feel, not only as governments in terms of them putting their money on the table, or wanting to see certain projects see the light of day. But basically, could we make sure we are pushing forward the climate agenda in ways that would mitigate and manage climate risk for the individual. If you look at COP28, you have the highest percentage of youth participation - their members and individuals coming from all kinds of think tanks and research centres and taking part in all kinds of sessions with different topics. That alone is a testament to how inclusive COP28 has been and will be until the last. The fact is we want to see outcomes coming from this, and outcomes that could keep the momentum for the upcoming COP presidencies as well.

There’s been some criticism by the UN climate body chief about the draft text for COP28 negotiations and there have also been questions about the UAE hosting the meeting given its history of being a key fossil fuel supplier. How do you look at that sort of criticism?

Well, we’re still a fossil fuel supplier, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the environment or the climate and what’s happening in other countries. Even if you look at the UAE, we have a coldish kind of winter and then we have an extremely hot summer, and we see the changes in terms of temperatures. So, if we are someone who exports fossil fuels and even as we continue to be a fossil fuel exporter in the near future, that doesn’t mean climate change doesn’t impact or affect us. The fact of the matter is that if we wanted to care less, we’d be like, okay, someone else can take care of COP28, another country that doesn’t produce or export fuel and they would have more credibility. But that’s wrong.

The fact that we come to the table and we are convincing companies to sign on to a charter to decarbonise the industry means that we have skin in the game both ways and we want to make sure that everyone can see that yes, we can continue to export oil but at the same time, we’re going to decarbonise the sector. When they see us doing so, they realise this is possible and it might actually even [lead to] some cost savings over the years. At the same time, we have Masdar, which is investing in renewable energy everywhere, including in Europe. It’s a portfolio that will keep expanding over time. Just [on Wednesday], [UAE vice president] Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced a massive solar project in Dubai. I don’t see how this undermines what has been done and is being done in COP28. The matter of fact is, if you look at the facts and statistics coming out, the pledges and the amounts that have been put on the table, probably in that sense alone, this is one of the most successful COPs.

How do you view the development that while 118 countries signed up to a pledge to treble renewable energy, key players such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and India stayed away from it?

Here’s the thing. Even as we manage the COP28 presidency, we came to this with the understanding that we won’t be able to bring every single person to the same agreement and consensus. This is why when I mentioned the declarations earlier, there are 130 countries for some, 120 for another, 30 for another. I mean if we could get everyone to agree that would be great, but we’re not talking about something where you’re talking to a maximum of 20 or 30 countries. We’re talking of more than 100 countries and even getting a fraction of those to agree on certain declarations is quite significant. I think we have managed to overachieve when it comes to that. We were very flexible and accommodating, to the point that even after the deadline for amending any text, we were still receptive to text coming from other countries, including from India, just to make sure that if there is a way to accommodate and add just one more country to the list of countries signing on to declarations, then we’ll be more than happy to do so.

In terms of India and the UAE working together, how significant is climate action in the overall bilateral partnership?

Very significant. I think this was very visible in the G20 Summit and the outcomes that came out of it. The whole idea is to make sure that certain topics or aspects of the G20 that touch upon climate change, mitigating climate risk and better managing this, is trickling down to the COP28 presidency because of the overlap that already exists there. There have been meetings here and in the UAE to make sure this synergy is there and we are maximizing on the opportunity, that we make it possible for India, within the understanding of national priorities for development and economic growth for India, [that it] can still sign on to those declarations.

Would the UAE be open to looking at working with India in third countries for climate mitigation?

Absolutely. Trilateral cooperation has been discussed when it comes to India and other countries, and even the UAE and India with a third partner in other countries. This will always be a possibility. India has ambitious goals when it comes to renewable energy creation and [having] the right energy mix. Whether we talk about the UAE or India or any other country, every country has its own priorities when it comes to economic growth and development and how to manage their sources of energy. You don’t expect countries to switch off fossil fuels and turn on renewables. It’s going to be gradual, in terms of a process. It’s going to take some time, but as long as the goal and timeline is clear, then this should be possible, whether it’s in both countries, which they are doing already, or in other countries.

The UAE has committed $30 billion to a new fund called ALTER-RA which is expected to benefit India. Are there any more details on this?

Not as of the moment. Things will be clearer probably once we reach the finish line with COP28. But again, if there’s one way to look at this, it is this commitment to mitigating climate risk. We have seen this year and in the past years, how extreme weather events have completely got people out of jobs or their livelihoods, they lost farmland and crops. Even if you had no flooding or no drought, just when there is a slight change in temperature, that could significantly impact the yield of agricultural production, and whatever funds that are there or whatever money that’s being committed, it’s all going towards this main direction of how can we make sure that we are keeping track of what’s happening on our planet and basically looking at past efforts, examining them, evaluating them, and modifying our approach to make sure that we are on the right track.

Could you tell us about the bilateral aspect of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit and the current status of bilateral trade relations?

I was there at the bilateral meeting and as always, it’s a very special friendship and a very good one. They obviously talked mainly about COP28, but they also discussed other topics – what else can we do in this relationship, how can we advance it further, including in the trade aspect, and they obviously discussed other things happening in the region. But what really never fails to astonish me is that you cannot not see the bond between the two leaders and how easy it is for them to have a conversation and carry on the conversation in whatever topic and whatever field that they want to talk about. You could see that he [Prime Minister Modi] was home and it was really good for everyone.

In terms of trade, you have the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit coming up are there any specific areas that you are looking at to drive trade after the signing of the free trade agreement?

A couple of things – Vibrant Gujarat is a good example because Gujarat is our number one trading partner as a state and I’ve been recently to Gujarat for the World Cup cricket final. The fact that UAE is a part of Vibrant Gujarat and we do participate at a very senior level shows our commitment to the state and to driving it further. When I was there, I’ve had a meeting with the chamber [of commerce] and there were quite a few ideas and thoughts of businessmen and startups wanting to see how can we do this. What I said to them is we just launched the UAE-India CEPA Council and when you look at the UAE and Indian companies investing in both countries, those are already established and have been doing business for the past 20-25 years. The segment that we haven’t pushed yet is the SME-startup ecosystem and this is why when we visit states where we meet with chambers, we have this focus to work on. This takes me to the second point and that is the same thing should be replicated with other states. When we look at the Indian map, we see a couple of states that are at the top places. But that doesn’t mean that the other states don’t have the potential. It’s just that what works for those states - is it going to be tourism, investing in infrastructure, managing ports, other kinds of cargo to be managed. So, getting to understand what the needs are and then getting companies to invest both ways, making sure that you support the startups and the ecosystem. All of this will not only make businesspeople aware of what CEPA brings to the table in terms of benefits, but to drive trade higher between the two countries.

How is the trade settlement in local currencies going for India and the UAE?

I believe they either are still working on the technical details or these have been finalised already...but what I know is that you can already do it. So yes, they have done a couple of transactions, one with gold and one with oil. So as an Indian trader, if you want to go and exchange dirhams for rupees or the other way around, you could do that and, in that sense, it’s a straightforward mechanism.

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