Hamas-Israel War Must Not Prevent Progress at COP 28 Climate Talks

Progressive Policy Institute
4 min readFeb 5, 2024


By Paul Bledsoe

The next United Nations climate change conference, COP28 , is scheduled to begin at the end of November in Dubai. Beyond the challenges of getting the world to agree on difficult climate issues, progress may be imperiled by the cloud of war between Hamas and Israel, and also by the choice of the United Arab Emirates as the host country.

The Middle East’s tangled politics and tortured alliances will make gaining unanimity of action on critical climate issues that much harder. Credible analysis indicates that Iran’s long-time support for Hamas, and claims that it helped plan the vicious attack on Israel, had a strategic objective of preventing incipient attempts to renew diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Saudi Arabia and Qatar also find themselves on opposite sides in this crisis, as Qatar has maintained close relations with Hamas for years. That, too, could further complicate efforts to get major oil and gas states aligned.

Yet, hope remains that the conference-hosting UAE — despite deriving nearly one-third of its GDP from oil and gas revenue — can leverage its relationships with other major state-owned energy producers to gain agreements to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, especially of that super-climate-pollutant, methane. Fully 75% of all carbon dioxide and methane emissions from the oil and gas industry come from state-owned companies. Thus, climate protection cannot be achieved without dramatically reducing emissions from the world’s petro-states.

Behind the scenes, top climate activists are especially focused on persuading the UAE to use its clout with other state-owned oil and gas giants to deliver big reductions in methane. In a sign of potential progress, COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, who also heads the UAE’s state-owned oil and gas monopoly ADNOC, has pledged that the UAE would phase out all methane emissions by 2030. And he recently said that “more than 20 oil and gas companies had positively answered calls to align around net zero [emissions] by 2050, and to zero out methane emissions and eliminate routine flaring by 2030,” although he provided no details.

Thankfully, many governments around the world are beginning to understand the urgency of action on methane emissions, since cutting methane deeply is the key to limiting near-term temperatures. All climate advocates must now realize that even the most aggressive decarbonization, while crucial in the long run, will only avoid 0.1 degree Celsius of warming at mid-century, because much of fossil fuel CO2 co-emits cooling sulfate aerosols. The sulfates dissipate from the atmosphere in a matter of days once a fossil power plant shuts down, unmasking net warming for the next 10 years.

In contrast, cutting methane can avoid nearly 0.3 degrees C of warming before 2050 — three times more than cutting CO2, and helping to prevent tipping points in natural systems and runaway warming.

An important new study from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the UN Environment Program finds that cutting methane deeply can prevent a million premature deaths globally by 2050; it would stop 90 million tons of crop losses and 85 billion hours in lost labor due to heat exposure, providing more than $260 billion in direct economic benefits. The study found that three-quarters of methane cuts from oil and gas can be achieved with existing technologies at minimal cost.

These huge life-saving and economic benefits further illustrate the centrality of methane reductions in overall climate protection.

Unfortunately, the Hamas-Israeli war is not the only major impediment to the progress of climate negotiations in Dubai. China remains the world’s leading climate scofflaw. New data indicates that methane emissions from Chinese coal, in particular, are much higher than previously understood, making Chinese coal the ultimate climate double-whammy — double the carbon dioxide emissions of natural gas, and massive methane emissions as well. Chinese coal mines emit massive plumes of methane that account for 20% of total global methane emissions from all fossil fuels and biomass combined.

China produces and burns more coal than the rest of the world combined, with coal use reaching an all-time high last year and driving global greenhouse gas emissions to record levels. China has repeatedly broken explicit promises to cut coal emissions and produce a methane reduction plan. Yet, many leading climate organizations seem reluctant to criticize Beijing, perhaps for fear of being kicked out of that country or losing major funding. More pressure needs to be placed on Beijing to cut emissions, or climate protection will prove impossible.

The U.S. must continue to show more leadership, too. That starts by reassuring key allies in the Middle East and elsewhere that gaining methane cuts at COP28 is a top priority, committing to deeper U.S. methane cuts, and calling for a global methane treaty, not just voluntary measures.

For his part, COP28 President al-Jabar is advancing the right ideas. “For too long,” he told a recent oil and gas conference in Abu Dhabi attended by major state-owned energy companies, “this industry has been viewed as part of the problem, that it’s not doing enough, and in some cases even blocking progress. This is your opportunity to show the world that, in fact, you are central to the solution.”

Whether he can convince those countries to commit to methane reductions will determine whether COP28 succeeds or fails.

Paul Bledsoe is strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute and professorial lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served as a staff member in the U.S. House, Senate, Interior Department and White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton.

This story originally ran in The Messenger on October 18, 2023.



Progressive Policy Institute

Radically Pragmatic. We seek to advance progressive, market-friendly ideas that promote American innovation, economic growth, and wider opportunity.