UAE announces Al Jaber will chair crucial summit, but campaigners call for him to now step down from his role as CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has today announced the leadership team for the COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai later this year, confirming that the CEO of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation (ADNOC), Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, has been appointed President-Designate for the conference.
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 was also the founding CEO of the UAE's Masdar clean tech investment arm, and as CEO of ADNOC has instigated a $15bn decarbonisation strategy at the oil and gas giant.
But environmental campaigners were today quick to warn that the appointment of a serving oil industry CEO as President of the UN climate summit amounted to a huge conflict of interest, and called on him to step down from his current role with immediate effect.
"With the COP28 host, the UAE, announcing the appointment of His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as President of COP28, 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 Corporation," said Tasneem Essop, executive director at Climate Action Network 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.
"If he does not step down as CEO, it will be tantamount to a full scale capture of the UN climate talks by a petrostate national oil company and its associated fossil fuel lobbyists. COP26 in Glasgow had 500 fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance, the COP in Egypt saw a 25 per cent increase in their presence, COP28 now seems to be open season for vested interests who will no doubt use the climate talks to continue to undermine any progress on climate action. As civil society we demand that Al Jaber does the right thing and either stand aside or step down."
However, the UAE today highlighted how Al Jaber has played a critical role in driving one of the most ambitious clean energy transition programmes from a Gulf state.
It pointed out UAE is now home to three of the largest and lowest-cost solar projects in the world and has invested more than $50bn in renewable energy projects across 70 countries, with plans to invest a minimum of $50bn over the next decade. It was also the first country in the Gulf region to ratify the Paris Agreement and adopt a net zero by 2050 target.
"This will be a critical year in a critical decade for climate action," Al Jaber said. "The UAE is approaching COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition. In cooperation with the UNFCCC and the COP27 Presidency, we will champion an inclusive agenda that ramps up action on mitigation, encourages a just energy transition that leaves no one behind, ensures substantial, affordable climate finance is directed to the most vulnerable, accelerates funding for adaptation and builds out a robust funding facility to address loss and damage."
"In doing so, we will bring a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach that delivers transformative progress for climate and for low carbon economic growth," he added. "We will therefore take an inclusive approach that engages all stakeholders from the public and private sectors, civil society, scientific community, women, and youth. We must especially focus on how climate action can address the needs of the Global South, as those most impacted by climate change trends."
Al Jaber also stressed the importance of seeing climate action as "an immense economic opportunity for investment in sustainable growth".
"Finance is the key that can unlock climate action and we are committed to supporting and facilitating the ongoing review of international financial institutions to scale up public financing, leverage private finance and improve access," he said. "Pragmatism and constructive dialogue must be at the forefront of our progress. As a nation at the crossroads of the globe, the UAE is well-positioned to build bridges, foster consensus and bring the world together in one shared mission to keep 1.5C alive and protect the planet for the generations who will follow us."
Backing up Al Jaber in the COP28 team will be Shamma Al Mazrui, who was confirmed today as COP28 Youth Climate Champion, as well as Razan Al Mubarak, who has been appointed COP28 UN Climate Change High-Level Champion, the UAE's government announced today as it sought to strengthen the leadership team for the Summit, which will take place from November 30th this year.
Al Mazrui is currently the UAE's Minister of State for Youth Affairs, while Al Mubarak is president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), where she represents over 1,400 members, including states, government agencies and non-government organisations from 160 countries.
As COP28 President the UAE is set to face a series of significant diplomatic challenges, as developing countries step up calls for the Loss and Damage fund agreed at last year's COP27 Climate Summit to be delivered as quickly as possible and the so-called High Ambition Coalition of countries revisit calls for much bolder action to reduce global emissions including through a global commitment to phase out unabated fossil fuels.
Rachel Kyte, Dean at Tufts University, Fletcher School and a former advisor to the World Bank, said the UAE's position as one of the world's leading petrostates meant the "incoming COP president has a dilemma".
"The UAE is competing to be the most efficient and lowest-cost source of fossil fuels as global production must diminish through the energy transition in line with IPCC and IEA pathways," she said. "There cannot be any more development of fossil fuels. It will be challenging as COP President to unite countries around more aggressive action while at the same time suggesting that other producers stop producing because UAE has you covered. We don't have the planetary space for mixed messages."
Her comments were echoed by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, who argued that COP28 should acknowledge that fossil fuel exploration had to be brought to an end. "The International Energy Agency [IEA] has been abundantly clear that there is no more atmospheric space for any new oil, gas or coal," she said. "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."
Consequently, Al Jaber can expect to face growing pressure to back proposals for a firm commitment to phase down or phase out unabated fossil fuels, as well as further calls from campaigners for him to step down from his role as CEO of ADNOC.
COP28 will also mark the conclusion of the so-called global stocktake, a two-year process established at COP26 in Glasgow to assess collective progress to date on delivering on goals of the Paris Agreement.
As such, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair - founder of his eponymous Global Institute for Change think tank - described 2023 as a "pivotal year in the fight against climate change", noting that at present the world stands "nowhere near where we need to be". However, he voiced optimism that the global stocktake process could help to spur much needed action to "move beyond ideology and slogans to practical partnerships" at COP28.
"Meeting this challenge will require a radical change in the way governments and public institutions engage with the private sector, and for existing partnerships to be strengthened and new partnerships forged to effectively channel finance and drive innovation," argued Blair. "The rapid deployment of private capital, prioritised by the Egyptian government at last year's COP, will be crucial, and this requires governments to set out priorities, establish markets and underwrite risk, particularly for emerging technologies and in emerging markets. The rapid deployment of private capital, prioritised by the Egyptian government at last year's COP, will be crucial, and this requires governments to set out priorities, establish markets and underwrite risk, particularly for emerging technologies and in emerging markets."
Despite concerns from many quarters over UAE's strong ties to fossil fuels, Blair argued its government had "shown leadership in climate investment and innovation", which had made it one of the world's largest investors in renewables, hydrogen and carbon capture technologies both domestically and abroad.
"The country is an exemplar of the public and private sector working in partnership," said Blair. "It has strong relationships with the Global North and South, East and West, and can be the honest broker needed to raise ambitions and seek real consensus."
Blair also personally praised Al Jaber's "deep diplomatic and commercial experience" as UAE's special climate envoy and Masdar's chairman, which he argued would stand him in good stead to provide strong leadership required at the crucial summit. "I am confident that Dr Sultan has both the standing and the capability to offer groundbreaking leadership for COP28," said Blair.
Much of the business community is also poised to step up calls for COP28 to deliver an ambitious new accord that includes fresh commitments to accelerate decarbonisation efforts. Maria Mendiluce, CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition of corporates, said: "Strong ambition and leadership from the UAE's new President of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber is critical for accelerating the significant investment needed globally to deliver a clean energy system - with the new jobs, health and economic benefits it will bring. Science is telling us the perils of going beyond the 1.5C limit: there can be no new fossil fuel projects, according to the International Energy Agency.
"At COP27, global business strongly backed the call to ensure we limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, and over 80 countries supported a call to phase down fossil fuels. Simply put: fossil fuels will inevitably be replaced with clean energy. Business needs the COP28 presidency to mobilize ambitious government policy and finance to dramatically scale up investments in clean energy while stopping new investment in fossil fuels. This will enable companies to cut emissions at speed, and build a safer, more stable and thriving global economy."
Meanwhile, some commentators have suggested the UAE's position as a petrostate, coupled with its huge investments in clean technologies, could boost the chances of an ambitious new international agreement being brokered at COP28.
Former UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, said: "The UAE has much to offer, especially when it comes to the thorny question of how to rise to the climate challenge while creating prosperity at the same time. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is a renowned green innovation hub that also houses the International Renewable Energy Agency [IRENA]. In addition the UAE has adopted a sound green growth strategy and is a major investor in renewable energy both at home and abroad. 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 focussed."
* This article was originally published here