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Concern as UAE names oil chief al-Jaber as COP28 president

The United Arab Emirates said on Thursday, January 12, 2023, that the head of state oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company would lead this year’s COP28 climate summit, fuelling activists’ worries that big industry is hijacking the global response to environmental crisis.

Sultan al-Jaber
Sultan al-Jaber, COP28 president

Sultan al-Jaber, also UAE’s minister of industry and technology and its climate envoy, will help shape the conference’s agenda and intergovernmental negotiations to build consensus, his office said in a statement.

The UAE, the third largest producer of the OPEC oil alliance, will host the U.N.-brokered climate talks from Nov. 30 through to Dec. 12.

Jaber, who according to the statement would be the first CEO to serve as COP president, said the UAE would bring “a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach”.

“We will take an inclusive approach that engages all stakeholders,” he added.

The UAE, a major OPEC oil exporter, will be the third Arab state to host the climate conference after Morocco in 2016 and Egypt in 2022.

Global Witness called Jaber’s appointment a “harsh blow” to weaning the world off fossil fuels.

“Like last year’s summit, we’re increasingly seeing fossil fuel interests taking control of the process and shaping it to meet their own needs,” added Teresa Anderson, global lead of climate justice at ActionAid, in a statement.

“Putting an oil CEO in charge of the negotiations for COP28 is clearly a conflict of interest,” said Lisa Schipper, an environmental geographer who served as lead author on last year’s U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate adaptation.

Tasneem Essop, head of the Climate Action Network, which includes more than 1,500 civil society groups, said al-Jaber “cannot preside over a process that is tasked to address the climate crisis with such a conflict of interest.”

In comments quoted by The Guardian, Essop added that al-Jaber’s appointment was “tantamount to a full-scale capture of the UN climate talks by a petrostate national oil company and its associated fossil fuel lobbyists.”

Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said: “The climate negotiations have been treated with disdain by politicians, but this is the biggest show of disregard of the seriousness of the climate crisis. The last two COPs crawled with delegates from the fossil fuels sector, and they have been responsible for blocking real climate action or derailing negotiations. Their heavy presence has led to the COP being unable to call for a fossil fuels phase out – even though it is the sensible thing to do.

“Now, UAE spits in the face of flooded, drowning and other climate impacted nations by appointing the chief among polluters to preside over COP28. We call on the UAE to rescind this appointment. It is the time to kick polluters out of the COP, not a time to make them the chief directors of proceedings. If they maintain this appointment, the COP would have earned its title as a Conference of Polluters.”

COPs “have always been circuses. Now they are complete jokes,” Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, said via Twitter.

“We need separate standing bodies focusing on energy, transport, deforestation, loss & damage etc, working all year round,” he added. “Not this bloated festival of world leader photoshoots and oil execs.”

Zeina Khalil Hajj, Head of Global Campaigning & Organising, 350.org, said: “The climate crisis demands urgent and real action, the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber, head of state oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) as President of UNFCCC COP28, is the equivalent of appointing the CEO of a cigarette company to oversee a conference on cancer cures. It 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. COP28 cannot turn into an expo for the fossil fuel industry, this flies in the face of all the robust scientific evidence and data given by industry players like the International Energy Agency that we must phase out fossil fuels for the chance of a liveable future.”

Romain Ioualalen, Global Policy manager at Oil Change International, said:  “This is a truly breathtaking conflict of interest and is tantamount to putting the head of a tobacco company in charge of negotiating an anti-smoking treaty. This appointment risks further undermining the credibility of global climate talks and threatens the action and leadership needed for a rapid and equitable phase out of all fossil fuels, which over 80 countries called for during last year’s COP. While countries should be focusing on how to rapidly decarbonise the global economy, the COP risks becoming a festival of greenwashing, false solutions and shady fossil fuel deals, a trend that was started by the Egyptian Presidency in 2022.

“The new COP28 President is not the CEO of any oil and gas company: ADNOC’s investment decisions in the next few years will make it the second largest expander of oil and gas production globally, despite clear warnings from the International Energy Agency and the UN that any new oil and gas production is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. ADNOC will surely tout its investments in renewable energy but the reality is that the climate talks will be run by the CEO of a company betting on climate failure. These are the worst possible credentials for an upcoming COP President.”

Godwin Uyi Ojo, an environmentalist, said: “The appointment by United Arab Emirates of the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to preside over the United Nations COP28 is a direct affront on the progress made so far in the earth summit negotiations. The conflict of interest will likely stall progressive decisions at a time civil society groups are clamouring to kick polluters out of the COP process. By this appointment as the COP28 president, the legitimacy of the COP process and commitment to a 1.5 degrees carbon emission reduction have been called into question.

“There is very little or nothing to expect from a CEO of a national oil giant whose main interest is to continue fossil fuel addiction rather than a commitment to complete phase out. The corporatisation of the COP process is also a clear testament of the imbalance of power between nation states and the growing capitalist corporate world driven by the fossil fuel industry with catastrophic consequences on people and the environment that is now occurring on a daily basis.”

Mohamed Andow, Founder and Director of Power Shift Africa, said: “Already the UN climate summits attract too many fossil fuel lobbyists trying to slow progress and undermine action on climate change. But having an oil boss leading the talks as President would be a step too far. The inmates would have taken over the asylum. We need people with a vision to end fossil fuels in charge of these talks, not someone whose job it is to sell fossil fuels to the world.”

Philip Jakpor, Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, said: “The announcement reinforces the long-standing conviction of the global climate justice community that the climate talks have been hijacked by the same fossil fuels industry that is responsible for the climate crisis and the suffering of frontline communities.

“The credibility of the UNFCCC processes to deliver on climate ambitions is mow further eroded. The negotiations in UAE may be between the fossil fuel industry and the fossil fuel industry. Frontline communities and other critical voices will be shut out.”

European Union climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said he would meet Jaber this week. “As incoming Presidency, the UAE has a crucial role in shaping the global response to the climate crisis,” he said on Twitter, adding “we need to pick up speed”.

The upcoming COP28 summit will be the first global stocktake since the landmark Paris Agreement. The 2015 accord aims to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Beyond this critical temperature ceiling, it becomes more likely that small changes can trigger dramatic shifts in Earth’s entire life support system.

The UAE was the first Mideast country to ratify the Paris accord and has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

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