Climate campaigners reacted with outrage on Thursday to the announcement that the United Arab Emirates’s president has appointed the leader of the country’s national oil company to preside over the 2023 United Nations climate talks, which the UAE will host later this year.
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber was named as president-designate of this year’s UN climate summit, COP28, scheduled to take place November 30 – December 12 in Dubai. Al Jaber is the UAE’s special envoy for climate change and also serves as the country’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology. He is the founder and CEO of a renewable energy firm called Masdar. But it is his role as the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the largest oil and gas producers in the world, that is sparking condemnation and conflict of interest allegations.
“You wouldn’t invite arm dealers to lead peace talks. So why let oil executives lead climate talks?” Alice Harrison, fossil fuels campaign leader at Global Witness, said in a statement.
“Renewable energy is now cheap and abundant,” Harrison continued. “But fossil fuel companies are working hard to keep skin in the game, and sadly the UN is rolling out the red carpet to them. This blatant conflict of interest at the heart of this year’s climate talks threatens to torpedo them before they’ve even begun.”
The presence of people with ties to the fossil fuel industry and other big polluters at the annual UN climate negotiations is nothing new. More than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists attended last year’s climate talks, COP27, in Egypt, a more than 25 percent increase over COP 26. And representatives of big agribusiness at COP27 totaled at least 160, according to a DeSmog analysis. Furthermore, Hill+Knowlton, the PR firm hired to run communications at COP27, also represents fossil fuel clients and ignored calls to sever ties with these clients ahead of last November’s climate summit. But Al Jaber is the only COP president who was a fossil fuel CEO at the time of his appointment.
As hosts of this year’s UN climate summit, the UAE had a significant presence at COP27 in Egypt. The largest group of fossil fuel lobbyists appeared to be the 33 delegates from Abu Dhabi’s National Energy Company, TAQA, followed by 22 representatives from ADNOC, according to Global Witness. ADNOC’s promotion of its initiatives around carbon capture and storage (CCS) at COP27 elicited criticism from campaigners who viewed it as greenwashing its fossil fuel business.
With the head of ADNOC now appointed to lead COP28, climate advocates are alarmed and angered that the UAE’s national oil company will have even greater influence at this year’s climate summit.
“The appointment of Sultan al-Jaber… risks jeopardising the entire UN climate progress. We are extremely concerned that it will open the floodgates for greenwashing and oil and gas deals to keep exploiting fossil fuels,” said Zeina Khalil Hajj, head of global campaigning and organizing at 350.org.
The increasing infiltration of fossil fuel interests into the UN climate talks, and the reluctance of these negotiations to confront fossil fuels head-on as the main driver of the climate crisis, have left some advocates questioning the process’s effectiveness and seeking an alternative solution.
“The COPs are increasingly becoming irrelevant,” Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said Thursday during a Covering Climate Now press briefing.
“With their backs against the wall, the fossil fuel industry is scrambling, sending more lobbyists to the climate summit each year and now weaseling their way into a position to dictate these negotiations. But we cannot meet the goals of the Paris Agreement without international cooperation to explicitly tackle all fossil fuels head on. A glaring gap exists, one that can be filled by a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is already being called for by nation states, parliamentarians, Nobel Laureates and sub-national governments,” Alex Rafalowicz, executive director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said in an emailed statement. The treaty campaign calls for an end to fossil fuel expansion and a global phaseout of existing production of coal, oil, and gas.
“We cannot have the fossil fuel industry defining how the transition away from fossil fuels takes place,” added Harjeet Singh, strategic advisor to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. “We need governments and vulnerable countries leading that conversation.”