As the United Nations COP28 climate summit ended Wednesday, Sultan al-Jaber walked out with what the United Arab Emirates wanted all along — the prestige of hosting negotiations that got the world to agree to transition away from fossil fuels while still being able to pump ever-more oil.

That left some wanting much more from the two weeks of talks, even as many praised its historic accord. But it no longer will matter to the state oil company chief executive and renewable energy advocate who embodies many of the traits that have propelled this young nation into the global spotlight.

Al-Jaber, who as president of COP28 facilitated the negotiations, faced criticism and scrutiny from the moment he took the position due to his oil ties. He tried to disarm critics among the delegates through an Emirati tradition, at one point convening a “majlis,” or a traditional ruler’s sitting room to listen to concerns that he said he wanted not to have been laundered through layers of diplomacy and bureaucracy. Most still were.

But after an initial proposal drew screams, al-Jaber and his entourage presented another early Wednesday that gained the consensus required in the COP process.

And for all words written, said and broadcast about this global event, it really just boiled down to 34 in one clause-packed sentence: “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

After the agreement’s adoption, al-Jaber received immediate support from some on hand.

“I have to say that the people that has criticizing Dr. Sultan and the UAE owe them an apology,” said Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s climate minister. “They have been a transparent and inclusive presidency.”

Others offered a more critical take, noting that al-Jaber’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. still plans to boost its oil production up to 5 million barrels of crude a day. That means more of the carbon-belching fuels driving climate change — which cause more-intense and more-frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, floods and wildfires.

“The atmosphere responds to one thing: Emissions. It’s physics, stupid,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate at the independent climate change think tank E3G. “And all the declarations, all the decisions, all the platitudes, all the announcements in the world, if it doesn’t translate into real world action that reduces emissions, is not worth the paper it’s written on.”

Though hosted in Dubai, the final agreement reached at the summit ended up being called “the UAE Consensus,” an extremely unusual move as other deals have been named after their cities, like the landmark Paris Accords or the Kyoto Protocol. All this feeds into the wider ambitions of the UAE, an autocratic federation of seven sheikhdoms, to grow its political stature in the international arena and to punch beyond its weight while further unifying this country that only formed in 1971.

Al-Jaber, long a trusted technocrat under leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ultimately had only one boss to satisfy. But reaching the deal here also required negotiating across fractious coalitions of countries that emerged at the talks.

The traditional Western nations held largely similar views, with U.S. envoy John Kerry staying close to al-Jaber in the months leading up the talks. The growing powers of China and India focused on ensuring their rise wouldn’t be curtailed through shutting off their coal-fired power plants. And the Gulf crude producers, led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, want to make sure their oil fields pump into the next generation to fuel their economic ambitions.

There were protests, both outside in the United Nations-administered Blue Zone at the summit and on the plenary floor, with 12-year-old activist Licypriya Kangujam rushing to the front to hold up a sign declaring: “End Fossil Fuel. Save Our Planet And Our Future.”

In a country where political dissidents face imprisonment, the Emiratis exercised restraint as U.N. officers oversaw those limited demonstrations as their tight grip across the rest of this monitored nation remained unchallenged.

Yet the al-Jaber-engineered deal faced criticism in the end.

“Many people here would have liked clearer language about the need to begin peaking and reducing fossil fuels in this critical decade,” Kerry told the summit. “But we know this was a compromise between many parties.”

An even-more stinging rebuke came from Samoa’s lead negotiator Anne Rasmussen, who highlighted what she described as “a litany of loopholes” in the final agreement.

“We didn’t want to interrupt the standing ovation when came into the room, but we are a little confused about what happened,” Rasmussen said. “It seems that you just gaveled the decisions and the small island developing states were not in the room.”

She added: “It is not enough for us to reference the science and then make agreements that ignore what the science is telling us we need to do. This is not an approach that we should be asked to defend.”

The science says the world must work to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Rasmussen’s remarks earned her a standing ovation at the summit, longer than that greeting the “UAE Consensus.” Al-Jaber sat, grimacing slightly for a few moments.

In the end, though, he stood up to applaud the Samoan as well. It was enough to have already won the war.

SourceAssociated Press