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Estonian ministry responds to questions over Dubai hosting of UN COP28 conference

UN COP28 signage in Dubai.
UN COP28 signage in Dubai. Source: Giuseppe CACACE / AFP/Scanpix

Over 50 top officials, private sector representatives, academics and others are to travel from Estonia to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the two-week 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) starting on Thursday.

Estonia is for the first time setting up its own expo pavilion at the event in the oil-rich UAE,* expected to be descended upon by around 70,000 delegates from over 200 countries.

COP conferences have been held since the first UN climate agreement was reached back in 1992. The conferences are mainly utilized as a platform for governments to agree on policies to limit global temperature rises, along with other related climate matters.

COP28 will include panel discussions and negotiations, and is expected to see a focus on realizing goals as well as simply agreeing on them.

Kristi Klaas, Deputy Secretary General for the green transition at the Ministry of Climate, addressing the apparent irony of substantial numbers of people traveling large distances from many different countries and via fossil fueled means of transport – the event leaves the very type of CO2 "footprint" that the meeting is set to address – said that such negotiations cannot be held remotely.

Klaas said: "At the same time, it has to be recognized that negotiations such as these cannot be held, nor agreements reached, while everyone is at the desks in their offices."

"Classical diplomacy and treaties are often born via face-to-face negotiations, which could not be achieved in any other way. One might inquire whether this type of negotiation is effective, since it is also time-consuming. Well, yes, it is time-consuming, but given the search for consensus, the outcome again is tenable."

Ministry official: First time Estonia has such a mixed make-up of delegates

"Meanwhile, and for the first time our Estonian delegation includes companies, universities and other partners who offer solutions for dealing with climate change," Klaas continued.

"This is the first time we are negotiating with a composition of this kind, and it is a very strong example of how, in cooperation between the private, academic and public sectors, we have jointly put together an agenda for the Estonian pavilion, in order to introduce our green and digital technology and to best pass on knowledge in this field," she went on.

Interest from Estonian companies for taking part in the COP conferences is constantly growing, while based on previous positive experiences, the proposal arose of Estonia this time setting up its own pavilion, Klaas added.

"Such joint public-private cooperation projects help our firms establish contacts in other countries, links which would be more difficult to achieve independently," she noted.

The COP talks have so far helped to avoid the bleakest climate scenarios, Klaas added, arguing that without the conference the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change would never have been born.

Of the over 50 officials representing Estonia, a dozen are from the Climate Ministry.

Climate negotiators, who have an important role in representing Estonia's positions and reaching agreements, are to take part in Dubai.

The 28th UN climate change conference in Dubai starts this Thursday, and

Participants from Estonia include: Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), former president of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid, European Commissioner for Estonia Kadri Simson (Center), Minister of Climate Kristen Michal (Reform), Ministry of Climate Secretary General Keit Kasemets, Deputy Mayor of Tallinn Joosep Vimm (SDE) and Aveliina Helm, adviser to Minister Michal.

Klaas said that of concrete topics, Estonia's representatives will showcase solutions to valorizing** refuse and biomass, renewable energy and digital solutions, as well as opportunities to make cities resistant to climate change, among other things.

Total cost to Estonia: €260,000

The total cost to Estonia for sending the delegation to Dubai comes to €260,000, of which €120,000 will come from participating ministries, €120,000 from participating firms and other attending organizations, plus €20,000 from the City of Tallinn. 

The Center for Environmental Investments (KIK) is coordinating the pavilion's organization on behalf of the climate ministry.

At COP28, a comprehensive interim review of the Paris Agreement is to be completed, and must show how far we are from the goals set by the Paris Agreement, Klaas added.

While in previous years, it has been seen as very important that the goals that should be reached be agreed on globally, the emphasis now is one a very clear focus on the implementation of these goals, Klaas said.

COP28 UAE fossil fuels lobbying allegations

Media reports state that the UAE had allegedly planned to exploit its role in hosting COP28 in order to lobby foreign government officials for oil and gas deals, according to leaked documents published Monday by the Center for Climate Reporting, in collaboration with the BBC.

Sultan al-Jaber, who controversially serves as both COP28 president-designate and chief executive of state oil giant ADNOC (the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.), planned to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 countries during the two-week conference.

A COP28 spokesperson cast doubt on the accuracy of the leaked documents, calling them "unverified" and the BBC's use of them "extremely disappointing."

In response to these claims, Kristi Klaas at the Estonian climate ministry said that COP talks rotate across five UN regions, each with their own characteristics and it is up to each region itself which country will host the talks.

Since setting and attaining climate goals requires agreement between many parties, some of them seemingly at polar opposites, be they universities, companies engaged in green tech, companies producing or using fossil fuels and others.

In this light, the UAE presidency represents a step in the right direction for fossil fuel companies in cutting down on emissions and other environmental harm.

Klaas expressed hope that important agreements will be reached in Dubai, decisions which will help to mitigate climate change, including on the part of oil producing nations like the UAE.

COP28 Dubai runs November 30 to December 12.

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*Oil reserves in the UAE, according to its government, are about 107 billion barrels, comparable with Kuwait's claimed reserves. Of the emirates, of old known in English as the Trucial States, Abu Dhabi has most of the oil with 92 billion barrels while Dubai has 4 billion barrels 1.5 billion. Most of the oil is in the Zakum field which is the third largest in the Middle East with an estimated 66 billion barrels. The UAE produces about 2.9 million barrels per day of total oil liquids.

**Valorize means to raise or fix the price or value of (a commodity or currency) by artificial means, especially by government action.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Karin Koppel

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