UAE names oil chief to head UN climate talks

Al Jaber has served as the UAE's Special Envoy for Climate Change since 2010, and has participated at 10 previous UN COP Summits
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber
Sultan Ahmed Al JaberIANS

NEW DELHI: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday announced the leadership team for the COP28 UN Climate Summit in Dubai later this year with the CEO of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation (ADNOC), Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, being appointed President-Designate for the summit.

Al Jaber has served as the UAE's Special Envoy for Climate Change since 2010, and has participated at 10 previous UN COP Summits. He is the CEO of the ADNOC and this is the first time a UN climate summit will be hosted by a serving CEO of an oil company.

As such there will be intense scrutiny on his role and goals as the summit approaches, with many observers unhappy that he has not stepped down as the CEO of the ADNOC for the duration of his work.

Al Jaber is an influential member of the UAE government, holding roles as a Minister of Industry, CEO of the ADNOC and chairing the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, otherwise known as Masdar.

Born in 1973, the 49-year-old was educated in the US and the UK, and has been the face of the UAE's energy sector over the last decade, setting up Masdar in 2006 while running the UAE government's strategic investment arm.

Al Jaber is not in the Royal family, making his rise all the more remarkable, and is known to have a strong global contacts book among world leaders and CEOs.

In a 2021 speech accepting an award from an oil industry intelligence group, he said Masdar was evidence the UAE is "ahead of the curve... leadership viewed clean and renewables as a natural and logical extension of UAE's role as a global energy leader."

COP28 will be the third time a major UN climate summit has been held in the Middle East, with Qatar (2012) and Egypt (2022) previous hosts.

Given worsening geopolitics, rising climate damages and a fractious end to the COP27 summit in Sharm El Sheikh 2023 promises to be a tough year.

Al Jaber will be under deep scrutiny: this is the first time a serving oil executive has assumed the top role at a UN climate summit.

The country has a huge per capita carbon footprint: the world's 4th largest behind Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

However, climate activists criticized Al Jaber's appointment. For Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, his appointment "poses an outrageous conflict of interest".

"Al Jaber's appointment as COP28 President is outrageously regressive and deeply problematic to say the least! Fossil fuels are the root cause of the Climate Crisis. His position as CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company raises grave conflict of interest issues," he told IANS.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), it's the seventh-largest petroleum and other liquids producer in the world with export revenues topping $70 billion.

Proven oil and gas reserves are vast: 98 billion barrels of oil and 215 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Responding to the appointment, Christiana Figueres, UN climate chief (2010-2016), said, "The International Energy Agency (IEA) has been abundantly clear that there is no more atmospheric space for any new oil, gas or coal. This policy clarity echoes the findings of science and the increasing demands of public opinion.

"COP28 must not only align itself with this reality, but in fact accelerate global decarbonisation. There is no other path forward."

Climate justice activist from Uganda, Vanessa Nakate, said, "COP28 needs to see real money put into the loss and damage fund agreed in Egypt. But alongside this, COP28 must speed up the global phase out of fossil fuels -- we cannot have another COP where fossil fuel interests are allowed to sacrifice our futures to eke out another few years of profit.

"And finally, the voices of civil society and young activists are crucial in holding governments to account -- they must be heard in Dubai without intimidation."

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