13 Jan 2023

Climate change: UAE names oil chief to lead COP28 talks

7:52 am on 13 January 2023
(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 11, 2019, the United Arab Emirates' minister of state and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, addresses the opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) in the Emirati capital. - The head of the United Arab Emirates' national oil company was named as president of this year's COP28 climate talks on January 12, 2023, promising a "pragmatic" approach to climate action. (Photo by AFP)

While Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber heads the world's 12th largest oil company, he also chairs a renewable energy company that he helped set up. Photo: AFP

The head of one of the world's biggest oil companies has been named to lead the COP28 global climate talks in Dubai, later this year.

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is the chief executive officer of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

He is also the minister for industry and advanced technology for the COP28 hosts, the United Arab Emirates.

Campaigners say he must stand down from his oil business role while president as it is a clear conflict of interest.

They believe someone steeped in the oil industry may not push countries to rapidly reduce their production and use of fossil fuel, which scientists say is critical to avoiding dangerous climate change.

Running the global climate talks process is not an easy job - for months before, and especially during the conference, every word and action of the president is heavily scrutinised.

COP28 is already mired in some controversy as the hosts, the United Arab Emirates, are one of the world's biggest producers of oil and gas.

The appointment of a key figure in the energy industry as the president-designate of COP28 will likely increase the concerns that the global climate talks process is facing significant influence from fossil fuel interests.

The recent COP27 gathering in Egypt was described by some attendees as a "glorified fossil fuel trade show".

Analysis of those who registered for the event showed a significant increase in those who were connected to the oil and gas industry compared to previous meetings.

Among the large delegation from the UAE at the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, there were 70 people closely connected to fossil fuels.

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is said to be the world's 12th biggest oil company.

Over the past decade Al Jaber has become the face of the UAE's energy industry but he will be the first serving oil executive to assume the role of COP president.

As well as being a minister and his country's climate envoy, he is also chairman of Masdar, the government-owned renewable energy company that he helped set up.

He has certainly long warned of the dangers of climate change but campaigners are concerned about his appointment, and are calling for him to step aside from his industry roles.

"It is imperative for the world to be reassured that he will step down from his role as the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company," said Tasneem Essop, from Climate Action International.

"He cannot preside over a process that is tasked to address the climate crisis with such a conflict of interest, heading an industry that is responsible for the crisis itself."

A person walks near the COP27 climate conference at the deserted hall at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of the same name near the end of the climate conference on November 19, 2022. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

COP27 became a "glorified fossil fuel trade show", some critics said. Photo: AFP

Industry opposition to a more rapid phase out of fossil fuels

What will concern campaigners is that major oil and gas producers are among those opposed to a more rapid phase out of all fossil fuels.

At COP27, there was a strong push from more than 80 countries for the conference to declare support for a phase down of oil and gas as well as coal.

This attempt came to nothing in the face of strong opposition from countries that rely on fossil fuel exports.

While Al Jaber's appointment has been met with criticism from activists, others involved in climate diplomacy have welcomed the move.

"The UAE has adopted a sound green growth strategy and is a major investor in renewable energy both at home and abroad," said Yvo de Boer, who was UN climate chief between 2006 and 2010.

"The COP president-designate has been instrumental on many of these issues. This equips him with the understanding, experience and responsibility to make COP28 ambitious, innovative and future focused."

Certainly those skills will be tested at the gathering in Dubai in early December.

COP28 will hold the first formal assessment of progress on cutting carbon since the Paris agreement was signed.

The "global stocktake" as it is called will be a key moment in clarifying just how much further countries will need to go in restricting their emissions.


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