The United Arab Emirates has picked the head of its national oil company as president of this year’s COP28 climate talks, prompting criticism from environmental activists.

Here we examine the UAE’s reasons for choosing Sultan Al Jaber and what message it is sending ahead of the UN climate talks later this year.

– Who is Sultan Al Jaber? –

Al Jaber is the chief executive of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), which is one of the world’s biggest oil firms.

The 49-year-old, who was educated in the United States and Britain, is also the UAE’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology.

He was named the UAE’s special climate envoy in 2020, a post he also previously held from 2010-2016.

He is also the founder of Masdar — a multibillion-dollar, state-backed company that invests in renewable energy, backing projects in more than 40 countries since it was founded in 2006, according to UAE state media.

Al Jaber, who has taken part in more than 10 COP meetings, headed the UAE’s delegation to the last UN climate summit in Egypt. It was by far the biggest delegation to attend the talks, and one of the largest in COP history.

In 2009, he was appointed to the UN’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change by Ban Ki-Moon, the then secretary general.

“Sultan Al Jaber has been spearheading the UAE’s climate action well before and during his tenure at ADNOC,” said climate expert Karim Elgendy, Associate Fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think tank.

– Why the controversy? –

Holding COP28 in a major oil-producing country has provoked concern from activists urging a shift away from oil, which produces the greenhouse gases that heat the planet.

Those worries were only stoked by the choice of a fossil fuel executive as the face of the talks.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network International said it was a “conflict of interest” to choose a figure “heading an industry that is responsible for the crisis itself”.

Jaber’s nomination also heightened concerns that lobbyists looking to delay the phasing-out of fossil fuels will be given more sway.

Already, the COP26 in Scotland had 500 fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance — a figure that only increased with COP27 in Egypt, with the UAE sending the highest number.

“COP28 needs to conclude with an uncompromised commitment to a just phase out all fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas,” said Tracy Carty from Greenpeace International.

“There is no place for the fossil fuel industry in the global climate negotiations.”

– What’s the message? –

The UAE — one of the world’s biggest crude producers — “sees no contradiction” in the selection of Al-Jaber, Elgendy said.

The Gulf nation has repeatedly maintained that oil and gas will be needed for decades to power the world economy, while generating revenues that could be invested in renewable energy sources.

“The choice of Dr Sultan is absolutely representative of the UAE’s approach to climate action, which pledges to decarbonise its economy… but advocates for its moral right to export every molecule of fossil fuel,” Elgendy said.

“It argues that the world will still need some fossil fuel supplies by 2050 and that these should come from the lowest cost and lowest carbon producers,” namely Gulf Arab countries, Elgendy added.

The UAE is also a strong advocate for including oil executives in the climate conversation, arguing that their experience in the energy industry is helpful in tackling climate change.

“For Gulf countries, where oil wealth contributes significantly to the economy, a great deal of climate action will need to come from this exact sector,” said Aisha Al-Sarihi, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.

“Excluding the oil industry from the negotiating table might not serve the region,” the Omani expert told AFP.

Source Agence France Presse


UAE names technocrat to lead upcoming UN COP28 climate talks – Naharnet

The United Arab Emirates on Thursday named a veteran technocrat with experience in both renewable energies and the oil business to be the president of the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations in Dubai, highlighting the balancing act ahead for this crude-producing nation.

Authorities nominated Sultan al-Jaber, a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who now serves as CEO of the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. That firm pumps some 4 million barrels of crude a day and hopes to expand to 5 million daily.

Those revenues fuel the ambitions of this federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula — as well as the production of more of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that the U.N. negotiations hope to limit.

But al-Jaber also has experience in renewables as well. He led a once-ambitious project to have a $22 billion “carbon-neutral” city on Abu Dhabi’s outskirts — an effort later pared back after the global financial crisis that struck the Emirates hard beginning in 2008. Even today, he serves as the chairman of Masdar, a clean energy company that grew out of the project that now operates in more than 40 countries.

“Sultan al-Jaber has the credentials and background to lean into trends that are already on going,” said Ryan Bohl, an Austin, Texas-based Mideast analyst for a risk-intelligence firm called the RANE Network. “Him being an oilman, I don’t think that will be that big of a risk for him.”

The Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency made the announcement.

“This will be a critical year in a critical decade for climate action,” WAM quoted al-Jaber as saying. “The UAE is approaching COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition.”

He added: “We will bring a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach that delivers transformative progress for climate and for low-carbon economic growth.”

Each year, the country hosting the U.N. negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name — nominates a person to chair the talks. Hosts typically pick a veteran diplomat as the talks can be incredibly difficult to steer between competing nations and their interests. The nominee’s position as “COP president” is confirmed by delegates at the start of the talks, usually without objections.

The caliber of COP presidents has varied over the years. Observers widely saw Britain’s Alok Sharma as energetic and committed to achieving an ambitious result. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry faced criticism by some participants for the chaotic and at times non-transparent way he presided over last year’s meeting.

Al-Jaber’s planned role as president would see the technocrat firmly in the world’s spotlight for the first time. While not a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling Al Nahyan family, he’s become crucial in running the Emirates’ energy policies.

In its announcement about al-Jaber, WAM said the Emirates had invested “more than $50 billion in renewable energy projects across 70 countries, with plans to invest a minimum of $50 billion over the next decade.” It wasn’t immediately clear where those figures came from.

Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, has invested some $3.9 billion since 2018 in renewable energy, according to the New York-based research firm Global SWF. Masdar listed some $14.3 billion in investments in a 2020 briefing. Masdar did not respond to questions about its investments Thursday.

But at the same time, Mubadala has invested $9.8 billion over the same period in oil and gas projects, Global SWF said.

The UAE is home to a massive solar park in Dubai, as well as the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant, which is the Arabian Peninsula’s only atomic energy source. But it also requires vast amounts of energy to run the desalination plants that brought green golf courses to its desert expanses, power the air conditioners cooling its cavernous malls in the heat of the summer and power heavy industries like aluminum smelters.

The UAE’s clean energy policies grew in the mid-2000s as Dubai’s real-estate boom saw it constructing the world’s tallest building and massive, palm-shaped archipelagos off its coast. The World Wildlife Fund at the time estimated the UAE had the world’s largest ecological footprint per capita — meaning that each of its residents used more resources on average than those living in any other nation. The UAE still ranks high on similar lists.

The Masdar City project grew out of that concern of being tarnished, before being pared back.

“By us actually doing it and investing money, we had access to lessons learned that no one had access to,” al-Jaber told The Associated Press in 2010. “We have to learn, adjust, adapt and move forward. We can’t be rigid.”

The UAE then pivoted Masdar City into a campus now hosting the U.N.’s International Renewable Energy Agency and the firm itself into investing into renewables at home and abroad. Joe Biden, just before leaving office as America’s vice president, even visited Masdar City in 2016.

Analysts believe the Emirates is trying to maximize its profits before the world increasingly turns to renewables. The Emirates itself has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 — a target that remains difficult to assess and one that authorities haven’t fully explained how they’ll reach.

Bohl, the Mideast analyst, said the Emiratis view 2050 as “the year the scales will be tipped permanently” away from oil and gas. Russia’s war on Ukraine is forcing Europe in particular to try to move faster away, he said.

“They have 28 years to transform their economy into non-hydrocarbons,” Bohl said. “They believe the international market will move off oil and natural gas no matter what.”

COP28 will be held at Dubai’s Expo City from Nov. 30 through Dec. 12