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Tens of thousands of delegates are attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference


Today is the start of the annual United Nations climate conference COP28. Nearly 100,000 delegates from around the world are registered to attend. This year, the summit is being held in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world's biggest oil producers, at a time when greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are the main driver of global warming. NPR's Aya Batrawy joins us now from the conference in Dubai. Hi, Aya.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So what are some of the challenges and goals on the conference agenda?

BATRAWY: Well, one of the milestones is what they're calling the global stocktake. And basically, what this does is it looks at how countries are faring in their pledges to reduce carbon emissions and keep temperatures rising from that threshold of past 1.5 C compared to pre-industrial levels in the late 1800s. So this will be the first time ever that they do this global stocktake. But U.N. experts say that greenhouse gas emissions and, like you noted, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, have to be slashed by over 40% by 2030 if we want to get that target. And right now, we're on track for at least 2.5 C of warming, so that target is slipping.

Another main issue at the summit this year is something called the loss and damage fund that would help the most vulnerable countries with money to mitigate the impacts of climate change, like rising sea levels, fires and drought. So the question this year is - who's going to pay into this fund? - because we're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

FADEL: OK. So let's talk about the host country a minute. The president of the conference this year is the head of the UAE's state-owned oil company, which profits off fossil fuels. Kind of an interesting choice. Tell us more about that.

BATRAWY: Well, yeah, he's actually controversial for sure to lead these talks. Oil and gas are the backbone of the UAE's wealth and power. But Sultan al-Jaber is not just the CEO of Abu Dhabi's national oil company, he also leads one of the Gulf's first ever renewables companies in the UAE.


BATRAWY: And his argument has long been that you cannot have an energy transition away from oil and gas without the big energy producers and companies at the table. So he uses terms like being a, quote, "inclusive" COP and one that considers the energy needs of countries in Africa and Asia. But he has come under scrutiny on the one hand as a businessman steering billions of dollars in new investments in oil and gas, and at the same time insisting on what he calls a phase down in fossil fuels. But for now, the UAE relies heavily on oil revenue for its domestic stability and international clout. And just days ago, leaked documents reported by the Centre for Climate Reporting suggested al-Jaber was planning to discuss oil deals at this climate summit. But al-Jaber spoke to reporters yesterday about that. Here's what he said.


SULTAN AL-JABER: These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate.

BATRAWY: And he says, look, the UAE doesn't need to have a conference like this to strike business deals. And he says his focus is on keeping that 1.5-degree threshold within reach.

FADEL: OK, so some controversy there. What about the biggest economies and emitters of greenhouse gas? What's the U.S. saying?

BATRAWY: Yeah, I mean, there are critics that question the whole point of these summits. But the U.S. special envoy for climate, John Kerry, says it is a chance for countries like the U.S. and China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, to hash out how to cut their emissions together.

JOHN KERRY: There is cause for more collaboration here in the next few days. And most importantly, without China and the United States aggressively moving forward to reduce emissions, we don't win this battle. So we need to step up and help get the job done at a faster rate.

BATRAWY: But there's going to be a lot of no-shows this year. President Joe Biden, China's leader, Xi Jinping, and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aren't attending as far as the schedules show. And the U.N. secretary-general says world leaders are distracted by all these other crises, including a war here in the Middle East, in the Gaza Strip. But he says fossil fuels are the poisoned root of this climate crisis.

FADEL: NPR's Aya Batrawy in Dubai. Thank you, Aya.

BATRAWY: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.