Despite former Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine's resignation late last week from a key global climate advisory committee and early conflicts emerging over the Pacific Islands' demand for a phase out of fossil fuels and the COP President's pushback on this central climate issue, Pacific Islands Forum secretary general Henry Puna said from Dubai Sunday that he is encouraging the dozens of Pacific representatives at COP28 to remain optimistic that a good result is achievable from the two-week summit.
Puna, speaking to journalists by Zoom Sunday afternoon, said some view the annual climate summit known as COP as "a talk fest" with little impact.
Speaking to island representatives in Dubai Saturday night, Puna said his message was "let's not lose hope. Through our advocacy we've made so much progress."
He cited the success of the Paris climate summit in 2015. "The Pacific was at the forefront" in Paris, which set the global target of 1.5C that is still the global benchmark for climate action.
"We can't give up," Puna said. "Who are we doing this for? Our people who have entrusted us with this work."
But former President Heine late last week resigned as a member of the COP28 Advisory Committee, saying the COP president's support for oil and gas interests "undermine the integrity of the COP presidency and the process as a whole."
In an email at the end of last week to COP President Sultan Al Jaber, the United Arab Emirates climate envoy, Heine said "fossil fuels are at the very heart of the crisis that the COP process is designed to address. I was therefore deeply disappointed to learn that the role of COP presidency has been used to promote oil and gas interests."
In announcing her resignation from the advisory panel, Heine said, "The world is watching and will be on high alert for an outcome that leaves loopholes and caveats, or fails to set us on a path to a 1.5C future."
At a climate event last week, Al Jaber said there was "no science" that suggested phasing out fossil fuels would help the world to limit global warming to 1.5C. He added ending use of fossil fuels would "take the world back to caves."
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Al Jaber's comments were "incredibly concerning" and verged on climate denial.
In addition to heading the COP28 being held now in Dubai, Al Jaber is CEO of the UAE's state-owned oil company.
In contrast to Al Jaber, Guterres said bluntly: "The science is clear: The 1.5C limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce, not abate. Phase out, with a clear timeframe."
In response to push back on fossil fuel issues, Puna said "fossil fuel is on the table for the first time (at COP28)," and added: "This is a huge step forward. Whether we can make progress remains to be seen." But he expressed some optimism due to Al Jaber putting the fossil fuel issue on the agenda.
It is important to point out that the Pacific is not talking about an immediate phase out of fossil fuel, Puna told journalists Sunday. "It must be a 'just transition' - to take into account every fossil fuel producing country and the impacts it will have," he said.
Puna said one of the most positive developments in global climate negotiations is the "loss and damage" proposal that "is finally over the line.
This COP President (Al Jaber) is committed to loss and damage." But Puna also cautioned that the "devil is in the details" of negotiated agreements and said much work remains on this.