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Duba COP28 ;: the paradoxes of the energy transition | COP28: climate summit in Dubai

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Dubai is a very energy-intensive desert city, greedy in water and fossil fuels.

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Discussing a gradual exit from fossil fuels when we heavily depend on them for our economic and political survival: this is the paradoxical exercise facing the United Arab Emirates, host of COP28 and seventh world oil producer. , will deliver themselves from tomorrow in Dubai.

Many observers also question its validity as the conflict continues. interests seems inevitable.

Recent BBC revelations that Sultan Al-Jaber, the president of COP28, wanted to use his role to strike deals in fossil fuels on the sidelines of the summit have not helped to strengthen confidence already in doubt. hurt by the controversy surrounding the positions he holds at the head of ADNOC, the national oil company of Abu Dhabi.

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COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber has been at the center of several controversies since the announcement of his appointment. (File photo)

Like the neighboring petromonarchies, the United Arab Emirates, a country of 10 million inhabitants, owes its rapid and dazzling development to the hydrocarbons which lie in abundance in the subsoil of the Arabian Peninsula. Since the end of the Second World War, oil, in particular, has been the main lever of social, cultural and political transformations.

COP28: climate summit in Dubai

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The question is existential, recognizes Aisha Al-Sarihi, researcher at the Middle East Institute at the University of Singapore. Gulf countries understand that the era of oil is coming to an end and that demand will decline over time. A reduction in exports means less money coming in, with direct economic consequences, analyzes this specialist in economic issues linked to climate change.

During COP28, Sultan Al-Jaber will therefore highlight the need for a realistic and inclusive energy transition that takes into account the unique challenges of this region, predicts the researcher. One of her arguments will be that hydrocarbon revenues are necessary to drive this transition, she adds.

The issue is not only economic, it is also political. Oil revenue was at the heart of the formation of the Gulf States, and the stability of these regimes depends on it, recalls Marie van den Bosch, professor at Georgetown University and specialist in energy transition issues in the Gulf.

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In the Persian Gulf countries, oil has been the main lever of economic, political and cultural transformations since the end of the Second World War .

Petromonarchies operate according to a tacit social contract: a redistribution of oil revenues to the population, in the form of social benefits or jobs in the public sector, guarantees the maintenance of an authoritarian mode of governance, characterized by a virtual absence of political freedoms (with the exception of Kuwait).

In the short or medium term, their interest is therefore to maintain or even increase their production of fossil fuels while slowly transforming their economies. The Gulf petromonarchies are not the only ones to make this calculation, but it appears here in a particularly visible way.

A quote from Marie van den Bosch, specialist in energy transition issues in the Gulf

This is how the Emirates, the first state in the region to ratify the Paris Agreement and to adopt a strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, simultaneously announced that they were going to increase their production from 4.5 to 5 million barrels per day by 2027.

And this while the supply of cheap fossil fuels from this region has a direct effect on the speed at which other countries in the world are ready to make their painful transition to clean energy sources, also notes Marie van den Bosch.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to sound the alarm: the longer humanity continues to burn fossil fuels, the more disastrous the consequences will be. And the Arabian Peninsula, a very arid region, is on the front line. Most climate models show that warming there is twice as fast as elsewhere, recalls Aisha Al-Sarihi.

Kuwaiti meteorologist Essa Ramadan observes this in his country: between 1962 and 2021, Kuwait experienced 98 days over 50 degrees Celsius and 64 of them concern the period from 2010 to 2021, he warns. . In Iran, it was so hot in early August that the government had to grant two public holidays to the population.

The increase in wet bulb temperature is of particular concern to the scientific community. This index combines heat and humidity to determine the threshold of human tolerance for high temperatures. It is around 35 degrees for a healthy person.

In 2015, a report published in Nature Climate Changeestablished that, in the coming decades, wet-bulb temperatures could regularly exceed tolerance thresholds in the Persian Gulf if greenhouse gas emissions do not decrease. One of the authors of the study explains it in this popular video (in English) (New window).

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With global warming, sandstorms are increasing in the Arabian Peninsula. Here, a view of Kuwait City swept by the sands. (Archive photo)

In addition to the scorching heat, extreme phenomena are increasing in the region: sandstorms, torrential rains and floods like this one, monster, which affected the city of Mecca, the holiest site of Sunni Islam, last August.

More than the rich oil monarchies, it is the poorest countries in the region, such as Yemen, which are paying the heaviest price for these extreme episodes, because they 'have neither the infrastructure nor the means to enable them to protect themselves, also warns the report published in Nature Climate Change.

The combustion of oil and gas helps Gulf countries manage the problems of heat, lack of water, but also food security. 70 to 90% of local food is imported. There is a real complexity there, judge Aisha Al-Sarihi.

Air conditioners constitute the largest energy expenditure in the region, and their refrigerant gases contribute directly to global warming. As for drinking water, it largely comes from desalination plants which turbine all along this semi-enclosed sea that is the Persian Gulf.

Brine discharges have significant consequences on marine ecosystems, which are already surviving at the limit of their capacity: they increase the salinity of the water and reduce oxygen levels, as noted in a published article in Science (New window), last May.

Like air conditioners, desalination plants run on fossil fuels. In 2022, the Emirates emitted 218 million tonnes of CO2 for a population of 9.5 million inhabitants, one of the highest per capita rates in the world. By comparison, Canada emitted nearly 685 million tonnes of CO2 for a population of 40 million, according to estimates from the Climate Institute of Canada.

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In the United Arab Emirates, a very arid country that receives less than 100 mm of water per year, almost all of the drinking water consumed comes from desalination plants. The country is the world's second largest producer of desalinated water after Saudi Arabia.

In the port of Jebel Ali, in Dubai, a plant comprising 43 desalination units, one of the largest in the world, supplies the extravagant metropolis which , to ensure its luxurious lifestyle and cultivate its image as a festive city, consumes a phenomenal quantity of water.

A figure, reported by the < em>New York Times, alone makes you dizzy: Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, which houses a gigantic shopping center, absorbs nearly 950,000 liters of water every day.

If Dubai promises to make efforts to reduce its water and energy expenditure by 30% by 2030, it is in a city that lives completely out of step with its natural environment that COP28 will be held next week.

A desert city which, as summarized by Camille Ammoun, writer and political scientist who worked there for 10 years on urban and climate issues, would never have existed in this form, with this size and this type of activities in such a place, if it had not been for oil.

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