A Debacle Brewing in Dubai

We are sleepwalking towards catastrophe no longer. . . . Instead, we are now sprinting toward it, eyes wide open.


I observed here, earlier this month, that a team headed by Dr. James Hansen had just published Global Warming in the Pipeline in Oxford Open Climate Change.

The study is a tour de force, one to which not only the relevant scientific community would be well advised to “sit up and take notice,” but also policymakers—including those who will gather soon at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Why so? There are many reasons, but chief among them, in my view, is the Hansen team’s conclusion that in recent years Earth’s Energy Imbalance has nearly doubled. The following chart is lifted from their study.

Source: Fig. 25 from Global Warming in the Pipeline, in Oxf Open Clim Chang, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2023, kgad008

The implication is clear. It appears now that we are sleepwalking toward catastrophe no longer. Instead, we are racing to the brink, entirely awake, with eyes wide open. Something’s got to give.

We are sleepwalking toward catastrophe no longer. Instead, we are racing to the brink, entirely awake, with eyes wide open.

And so, in response, can we reasonably expect President Biden to take charge, and fly next week to COP28 in Dubai to publicly pledge, at long last, that we will utilize the full reach of US law to phase out fossil fuel production? And to urge other nations to do the same, or more?

Perhaps not. On Monday, the New York Times reported that the President is too “consumed by other global crises, namely trying to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in its war with Israel and working to persuade Congress to approve aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.”

But this is a bit strange, for two sets of reasons. First, the Israel-Palestine crisis raises concerns far beyond the need to secure Israeli hostages; and President Biden could take the opportunity of the meeting in Dubai to coordinate with other world leaders to attempt to resolve, or at least quell, those wars.

Second, since at least May of 2019, Joe Biden, first as candidate and then as President, has properly and repeatedly depicted the climate crisis as one presenting an “existential threat” to both the nation and the world. Repeatedly, that is, at least 100 times.1 With that record as a guide, you’d think he would not wish to leave COP28 to his aides, particularly in the face of the almost certain fossil fuel industry juggernaut brewing in Dubai.

What industry juggernaut, you might ask?

Consider, for instance, that this year’s president of the climate summit, Dr Sultan al-Jaber, is also the head of the United Arab Emirates’ state oil company, ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company). On Monday, the Center for Climate Reporting and the BBC reported on a series of leaked briefing documents prepared for al-Jaber’s use during COP28 to convince a number of nations that ADNOC stands ready to undertake joint partnerships to exploit their national fossil fuel reserves. With which nations? China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Senegal, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Kenya, and France at least. Moreover, ADNOC has previously shown itself to have designs on the oil and natural gas reserves of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

“For the President of COP28 to employ his position to gin up more fossil fuel business is beyond despicable.”

The very notion that the President of a UN Climate Conference plans to leverage the public trust invested in him by the United Nations to instead gin up more fossil fuel business is beyond despicable.

A debacle is brewing in Dubai. If the conference secures only more greenwashing—merely vague and empty promises enforced by nothing, leaving international fossil fuel conglomerates essentially unconstrained—then the already-slim prospects to protect and restore a viable climate system will further degrade.

Dr. Hansen and I fly there tomorrow, to try to set it right. We could use a little help from the President, such as we have outlined, indeed, repeatedly. If he is not too busy.

  1. That count, by the way, is by the University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law’s Tora Husar who has worked with me at CPR Initiative these last two months as a legal extern. Her persistent research and stellar analytical skills are high even for a veteran attorney, and she is just a 2L; Tora has materially helped us more fully develop several lines of legal thought and argument. ↩︎