UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (R) welcoming Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (R) welcoming Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida AFP News

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday discussed clean energy cooperation with top officials during a visit to the UAE, host of this year's UN climate talks.

Kishida's visit to the United Arab Emirates, which will host COP28 in November-December, is part of the first Gulf tour by a Japanese premier since the late Shinzo Abe in 2020.

Japan relies almost entirely on imports for its crude oil, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar accounting for the bulk of its supplies.

But as the oil-producing Gulf states move towards cleaner energy sources, especially ahead of COP28, Japan is hoping to offer its greener and renewable energy technologies to assist their decarbonisation efforts.

Kishida flew in from Saudi Arabia, where he met de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday. After talks with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, he will head to Qatar on Tuesday.

On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed said he held "fruitful and constructive discussions" with Kishida in Abu Dhabi on "developing bilateral relations and advancing the comprehensive strategic partnership between our two countries".

The leaders "affirmed the commitment of both countries to enhancing cooperation on climate action, decarbonisation efforts, and clean energy in the lead-up to COP28", according to a joint statement carried by the COP28 team.

The Japanese premier later met COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber, who also heads the UAE oil giant ADNOC.

They discussed "unlocking further global cooperation to utilise more cutting-edge technologies to scale up climate action and accelerate the transition towards a net zero economy," said a COP28 statement.

A UAE-Japanese business forum that coincided with Kishida's visit saw Tokyo and Abu Dhabi sign 23 cooperation agreements, including on renewable energy, the UAE's official WAM news agency reported.

During his UAE visit, Kishida plans to offer Japan's "cutting-edge decarbonisation technologies" as part of a green energy initiative for the Middle East, he said in an open letter carried by WAM.

Under the initiative, the UAE and Japan "will be well placed to collaborate in the related fields of hydrogen and ammonia production and utilisation as well as carbon recycling", Kishida added.

Shigeto Kondo, a senior researcher with The Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, said that Tokyo and Gulf states were "initiating their own strategy for carbon neutrality".

"Japan and the Gulf states think that climate actions should be realistic, and blue hydrogen and ammonia are one of the realistic solutions to climate change for the time being," he told AFP.

On Sunday, Kishida discussed energy security and decarbonisation with senior Saudi officials including Prince Mohammed in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

During the meeting with Prince Mohammed, Tokyo and Saudi Arabia agreed to launch the "Lighthouse Initiative for Clean Energy Cooperation", according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

"The initiative will support the ongoing efforts that Saudi Arabia is undertaking to become a hub for clean energy," said a joint statement carried by SPA on Monday.

It will focus on areas including hydrogen, ammonia, recycled carbon fuels and carbon capture technology, it said.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest oil exporter to Japan, fulfilling 40 percent of its total needs, the kingdom's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Sunday.

During Kishida's visit, Saudi Arabia and Tokyo signed 26 cooperation agreements, including in the fields of energy and green energy, according to the state-run Al Ekhbariya TV.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and Japan on Sunday also announced the resumption of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks, a GCC statement said.

The GCC-Japan FTA negotiations began in Tokyo in September 2006 but were suspended in 2009.

Japan's prime minister had been due to visit Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar last August, but postponed the trip after contracting the coronavirus.

His visit comes at a time of deepening engagement between the region and China, which brokered a shock detente between Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran in March.

Kishida arrived in UAE after meeting Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah
Kishida arrived in UAE after meeting Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah AFP News