Newly elected leaders to be held to same climate obligations, says Cop29 chief

<span>Cop29 chief, Mukhtar Babayev, called on the private sector to step up with funding for a green transition in the developing world. </span><span>Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP</span>
Cop29 chief, Mukhtar Babayev, called on the private sector to step up with funding for a green transition in the developing world. Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP

The governments that assume power after elections around the world this year will be held to the same climate obligations as their predecessors, the chief of this year’s UN climate summit has warned.

Cop29 will be held in Azerbaijan in November, near the end of a crucial year in which most of the global population – from the UK, the EU and the US to India and Russia – will head to the polls. The US presidential election, likely to be a bitter fight with climate a key issue, will be held on 5 November, with Cop29 to take place days later, from 11 to 22 November, in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Even if new administrations are formed, they will face the same need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle global heating, the incoming president of Cop29, Mukhtar Babayev, has said.

“I don’t think that any election will change the policy of any countries to move forward the consolidation of these issues [on the climate],” Babayev told the Guardian in his first big interview since his appointment in January. “That’s why our target is to use any chance, any communication, with these countries to move this process to positive results and positive outcomes.”

Incoming governments of whatever stripe would still have to cope with the reality of the climate crisis, he said, and the Azerbaijan presidency would hold them to their committments . “I think all countries will follow their obligations, and we will move to this direction,” he said. “I’m optimistic. We will do everything and will do our best to [ensure] all countries move in this direction.”

Noting that elections were taking place in many countries, Babayev declined to single out any specific states but acknowledged that the US election was “a very interesting process”.

He said: “Until the end of this year, we will work with the current administration. And I think we have a very good chance, to invite all the participants to Baku to discuss the agenda. We’re working with the current administration of the US to at least develop the agenda to work together, to achieve the targets together.”

Azerbaijan has been an oil producer since the 1840s, and is one of the world’s top fossil fuel suppliers. Oil and gas account for 92% of the country’s exports, according to US data, and about two-thirds of the state budget, and the country is planning to increase its gas output by a third in the next decade.

Babayev said the government was moving to decarbonise the economy, boosting renewable energy and seeking a transition away from fossil fuels. Oil production was expected to reduce, he said, but gas production would need to increase to meet demands from the EU, which since the invasion of Ukraine had sought to find gas supplies to replace those it used to get from Russia.

“We have to deliver [gas] to the European market, because of a big request from the EU. We have already adopted a programme to deliver more gas. But the programme is to invest all these revenues, or at least to consider how it’s possible to invest these revenues, to transform the economy in a green direction,” he said.

He also highlighted the country’s efforts to decarbonise, with a target of moving from 98% fossil fuels in its energy mix to 30% renewables by 2030. “Azerbaijan is the leader in the region to invest in alternative energy. [It is] the intention of Azerbaijan to turn the corner on our economy to green directions. Already, a lot of programmes have been adopted by our government, [in pursuit of this green growth agenda],” Babayev said.

Among these, Azerbaijan is exploring offshore wind in the Caspian Sea, and is working on plans to export green energy under the Black Sea to Hungary and Romania.

Holding a Cop summit in such a fossil fuel dependent country is controversial, and Azerbaijan was a late choice to host. At Cop28, where the decision was taken, Russia vetoed potential offers from eastern European states to host, but decided not to stand in the way of Azerbaijan’s eventual offer.

Babayev, who has also written an opinion piece for the Guardian, pointed to the support of Armenia, with which Azerbajian has been in conflict over disputed territory since before the collapse of the Soviet Union until the surrender of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh after a military offensive by Azerbaijan last September.

“Azerbaijan can play the role of bridge between [the global] north and south, and between the east and west,” he pledged. This would be assisted, he added, by the formal adoption of a “troika” system by the UN, by which the previous hosts – United Arab Emirates, which hosted Cop28 in Dubai last December, and still holds the presidency of the talks until the start of Cop29 – and the hosts of Cop30, Brazil, will coordinate their work on the negotiations.

At Cop29, one of the key issues is likely to be climate finance, as poor countries struggle to find the funding they need to invest in clean energy and move away from fossil fuels.

Babayev called on the private sector to step up with funding for a green transition in the developing world, as well as publicly funded banks such as the World Bank. “Our task is to invite as much as possible the private sector for climate finance – it’s a very good source for new initiatives, new formats, new mechanisms for finance,” he said.

Cop29 will take place at the end of what is likely to be another year of record-breaking temperatures around the world. Last month marked the first time average global temperatures for a whole year had exceeded the vital scientific threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

One year of such heights is not enough to invalidate the Paris agreement, under which countries aspire to hold temperatures within the 1.5C limit, but scientists are increasingly pessimistic, as global emissions have not yet started to fall as they need to, and rapidly.

Babayev insisted the 1.5C goal must still be the central focus of the UN framework convention on climate change talks. “We need to consolidate our efforts to 1.5C,” he said.

“I’m not pessimistic on this issue. We have to move on the target and the implementation of the programme [to reduce global emissions]. If we start the action, start the implementation of the agreements made at previous Cops, we have a chance. We will do our best.”