UAE triggers backlash as oil chief appoints president

In a statement confirming his appointment as President-Elect of COP28, Al Jaber said, “The UAE approaches COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition.”

AFP | Getty Images

The United Arab Emirates announced on Thursday that the head of state oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the world’s largest oil companies, will lead the COP28 climate talks in Dubai later this year.

Sultan al-Jaber’s appointment as COP28 President-designate has prompted a furious backlash from climate activists and civil society groups. Many have called on the oil chief to relinquish his role as CEO of ADNOC, saying it represents a clear conflict of interest with his position at COP28.

Al-Jaber’s office – who is also the UAE’s industry and technology minister and the country’s climate envoy – said he would play a central role in intergovernmental negotiations to reach consensus during of the conference.

The United Arab Emirates, the third largest producer in the OPEC oil alliance, will host the UN-brokered climate talks from November 30 to December 12.

This appointment goes beyond putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

Therese Anderson

Head of Global Climate Justice at ActionAid

In a statement confirming his appointment, al-Jaber said, “The UAE approaches COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition.”

“Pragmatism and constructive dialogue must be at the forefront of our progress,” he added.

Al-Jaber’s office said the minister had played a “proactive participatory role” in more than 10 COP summits and brought to his role two decades of business and leadership experience in government, climate policy and in the renewable energy and energy sectors.

The designation sparked a wave of international criticism:

“This appointment goes beyond putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop,” said Teresa Anderson, global head of climate justice at development charity ActionAid.

“The UN Climate Summit is supposed to be a space where the world holds polluters to account, but increasingly [it’s] hijacked by those with opposing interests. Similar to last year’s summit, we are seeing more and more fossil fuel interests take control of the process and shape it to suit their own needs,” Anderson said.

“Large-scale screenshot of the UN climate talks”

Tasneem Essop, head of the Climate Action Network, which includes more than 1,500 civil society groups, said al-Jaber “cannot chair a process tasked with dealing with the climate crisis with such a conflict of interest. “.

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

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

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

Asked about a response to the criticism, a spokesperson for the UAE’s office of the special envoy for climate change told CNBC that al-Jaber’s experience “uniquely positions him to be able to convene public sectors and private to provide pragmatic solutions to achieve the goals and aspirations of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

They added, “The UAE is committed to an inclusive COP process, with the COP President acting as the global convener. The UAE COP Presidency works with all parties and is committed to being open, transparent and accountable”.

A spokesperson for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was not immediately available for comment.

First global assessment since the Paris Agreement

November last year’s COP27 conference in Egypt saw a surge in attendees associated with the world’s most polluting oil and gas giants. It was described at the time as a “twisted joke” that represented the ability of the fossil fuel industry to influence proceedings.

The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, is the main driver of the climate emergency.

Why poorer countries want rich countries to pay their climate change bill

The next COP28 summit will be the first global assessment since the historic Paris agreement. The 2015 agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

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

The United Arab Emirates was the first country in the Middle East to ratify the Paris Agreement and has pledged to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century.

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