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The View: Combatting climate change needs passion, not statistics

This week’s UAE Maritime conference lacked passion. If the Middle East really cares about decarbonisation, the emotional resources behind COP28 must be gathered. Otherwise, it’s all hot air

The climate change activists were not parading around Dubai’s convention centre calling shipping to account: There was no point. Shipping has lost the radical edge that challenges, confronts and contests

SHIPPING is a small player in the global energy mix but unless every sector is aligned with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, it won’t happen.

This week’s failure to make that point loud and clear at UAE Maritime Week in Dubai, host city of COP28 in November and December, was a missed opportunity.

Sultan al-Jaber, COP28 president-designate, announced the UAE’s alignment with the 1.5°C goal three months ago, insisting that his government’s mind is made up. So why was the UAE’s maritime community so sceptical about decarbonisation?

Almost all sessions dug deep into carbon-neutral and zero-carbon opportunities. However, the key alternative fuels panel lacked participation from the region, despite global expectations from the Middle East’s vast potential to export hydrogen-derived alternative fuels.

Regional actors are waiting for their rulers to give leadership before they commit to large-scale decarbonisation projects, as state-owned companies hold sway in the Middle East’s energy and shipping industries.

Jaber knows this. His first chief executive role was at an Abu Dhabi-based green energy vehicle that is now among the largest investors globally in clean energy. That led to his appointment to the leadership at Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

The brief there was to transform, decarbonise and future-proof the state-owned company. But, like Saudi Aramco and QatarEnergy, Adnoc will not finalise its plans to produce alternative fuels for maritime until demand is shown to be there.

When he was appointed to the leadership of COP28, activists were unimpressed. They accused big energy of hijacking the response to climate change. Jaber responded that the 1.5°C goal was a top priority.

But not a high enough priority to address UAE Maritime Week, apparently.

Changing hearts and minds is more than stating an intention in a keynote speech. No one doubts the scale of the balancing act. The Middle East region is powered by fossil fuels but is committed to producing renewable hydrogen-derived fuels such as green ammonia and methanol.

Climate change activists are passionate. Jaber recognises this but says they must be realistic about what can be achieved. But there was no passion for zero-carbon solutions in Dubai this week.

Shipping loves conference presentations full of statistical analysis and it can’t get enough of big names who underscore widely accepted beliefs. But it is not keen on speakers who rock the boat.

COP28 must find the passion for combatting climate change shown by activists and the young

Otherwise, this COP gathering will be as forgettable as so many others.

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