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Top warming talks official hopes for 'course correction' and praises small steps in climate efforts

NEW YORK (AP) — A top official helping to oversee upcoming international climate negotiations hopes to prove critics wrong — and surprise them with a “course correction” for an ever-warming world.

But don't expect that big a turn.

Adnan Amin, the CEO and No. 2 official at the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai in late November and December, said he also knows what activists, critics and the head of the United Nations really want — a phase-out of fossil fuels that cause climate change. He said it looks unlikely.

Yet Amin said that while an agreement ridding the world of fossil fuels doesn't look likely, a “phase-down of fossil fuels is inevitable."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Amin demonstrated how the leadership of the climate talks is trying to thread a moving diplomatic needle and praised steps in a decarbonizing direction, however small. Amin’s boss, the COP28 president, is an oil executive; Amin was the founding director of the U.N.’s renewable energy agency. The talks are being hosted by petrostate United Arab Emirates.

The Kenya-born Amin is quick to defend COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, pointing out that al-Jaber also runs a renewable energy company and was key in the founding of the U.N.’s renewable energy agency in the UAE. He will surprise critics, Amin said.

In 10 years when critics and others look back at the talks, Amin wants to hear amazement.

“I hope they will be saying that ‘we didn’t think that an oil producing country could achieve an outcome on climate of this sort. We didn’t think that a process that we thought was blah blah ( the words activist Greta Thunberg used to describe climate negotiations ) could achieve an outcome of this sort’,” Amin said. “But that was a course correction that the world needed to get us to a place of comfort for all of us.”

AN ELABORATE ECOSYSTEM IS IN THE WAY

It all comes down to the role of coal, oil and natural gas, the nations that rely on them and the companies that profit from them.

Amin welcomes fossil-fuel interests to negotiations, while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, activists and some scientists literally want them gone. They say a phase-out of fossil fuels is the only way to curb warming to a manageable level.

But given oppositions by some countries and the climate talks requirement to act by consensus – so one nation can stop everything – it’s unlikely that a phase-out will be approved, Amin said. He pointed to the desire by some African countries to use fossil fuels to develop. Rich nations already emitted heat-trapping gases to develop, he said, and it’s not fair to ask Africa to forego that without massive financial aid to help them leapfrog to clean energy.

Outside experts don’t buy that argument.

“We don’t need these historic polluters using Africa poverty to promote fossil fuels which will ultimately inhibit Africa’s development," said longtime climate analyst Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa.

Africa, which produces less than 4% of the world's carbon emissions, gets hard hit with extreme weather, such as the rainy storm that triggered Libya's floods and intense droughts, and have fewer resources to cope with disasters.

“If we truly want to be able to tackle climate change, the first thing we need to do is phase out fossil fuels,” Adow said in an email. “We don’t want UAE to hide behind low expectations of itself because it is an oil country. If it couldn’t deliver a radical, decarbonizing COP28 summit it should not be volunteering to coordinate it.”

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘PHASE OUT’ AND ‘PHASE DOWN’

Climate scientists Niklas Hohne at the New Climate Institute and Bill Hare at Climate Analytics say there’s a significant difference between “phase out” and “phase down." They say “phase down” is what the fossil-fuel industry wants, not what the world needs.

“The scale of investment in fossil fuel development by the UAE is the clearest indication of the direction of travel and it is not towards decarbonization but locking in massive fossil gas infrastructure,” Hare said.

While a phase-out is crucial, former U.S. State Department climate lawyer Nigel Purvis said Amin is probably right that ending to fossil fuel is likely an impossible ask. That’s because it seemed as if major nations like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia were blocking such a move at a recent meeting of rich economies, he said.

Amin said upcoming climate talks aim to be the most inclusive ever, but that also includes the at-times vilified fossil fuel industry.

“We believe that the oil and gas industry needs to be part of the climate equation,” Amin said. “We’re engaging with them to see if we can get them to commit to, you know, more rapid decarbonization of their operations.”

Amin said he understands the angst and anger of young people. It’s their future, he says, so they will have more of an official role in this year's negotiations than in the past.

Amin said he will consider the upcoming talks a success if they accomplish four things: fix and increase climate financial aid from rich nations to poor; decarbonize energy systems more; increase funding for nations to adapt to a warming world, especially hunger and health problems; and include more groups in the negotiations.

Fixing climate change is painstakingly slow, he said, but agreements from 2015 and 1997 have produced progress.

“There is a lot of impatience given the scale of the crisis,” Amin said. “The multilateral system moves slowly, but it moves.”

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Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment and follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ borenbears

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press