Backlash as UAE oil boss picked to lead COP28 climate summit

United Arab Emirates' Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

United Arab Emirates' Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

What’s the context?

Appointment of Sultan al-Jaber to lead U.N. climate talks in the United Arab Emirates has raised concerns among green activists

  • Sultan al-Jaber to oversee talks in United Arab Emirates
  • Green campaigners concerned about conflict of interest
  • Yet some diplomatic experts say it could be positive move

BARCELONA - The United Arab Emirates has appointed the head of its state oil firm, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, to preside over the COP28 U.N. climate summit in December.

Sultan al-Jaber is also UAE's minister of industry and technology and its climate envoy, as well as being founding CEO of Abu Dhabi's renewable energy firm Masdar.

The decision has been met with dismay among many green activists who are concerned about the hosting of COP28 by a leading fossil-fuel producer nation, after the previous summit was held in gas-rich Egypt in 2022.

However, some diplomatic and business experts view the choice as a chance to ratchet up pressure on Gulf states with large oil and gas reserves to shift to clean energy.

Here is a selection of comments on the new COP28 president, and expectations for the global gathering:

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Chiara Liguori, climate advisor, Amnesty International:

"Sultan al-Jaber's appointment sends the wrong signal to the people most affected by climate change. It is also a disappointing selection for all those hoping COP28 will offer swift progress on reducing carbon emissions and delivering climate justice.

"The fact that the UAE is a major oil producer does not bode well for the outcome of COP28, and the appointment of the head of the national oil company will heighten concerns that the UAE will use its presidency of COP28 to foster fossil fuel interests."

Vanessa Nakate, climate justice activist, Uganda:

"COP28 must speed up the global phase-out of fossil fuels - we cannot have another COP where fossil fuel interests are allowed to sacrifice our futures to eke out another few years of profit.

"The voices of civil society and young activists are crucial in holding governments to account - they must be heard in Dubai without intimidation."

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate takes part in the Fridays for Future strike alongside other international climate activists during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 11, 2022.REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate takes part in the Fridays for Future strike alongside other international climate activists during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 11, 2022.REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate takes part in the Fridays for Future strike alongside other international climate activists during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 11, 2022.REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University:

"The incoming COP president has a dilemma. The UAE is competing to be the most efficient and lowest-cost source of fossil fuels, (even) as global production must diminish through the energy transition ... 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 (the) UAE has you covered. We don't have the planetary space for mixed messages."

Tasneem Essop, executive director, Climate Action Network International:

"With the COP28 host, the UAE, announcing the appointment of ... Sultan 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.

"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 U.N. climate talks by a petrostate national oil company and its associated fossil fuel lobbyists."

Teresa Anderson, global lead on climate justice, ActionAid:

"This appointment goes beyond putting the fox in charge of the hen-house. The U.N. Climate Summit is supposed to be a space where the world holds polluters to account, but increasingly its being hijacked by those with opposing interests.

"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."

Activists hold a rapid response demonstration to implore countries to phase out all fossil fuels, at the COP27 climate summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 18, 2022. REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Activists hold a rapid response demonstration to implore countries to phase out all fossil fuels, at the COP27 climate summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 18, 2022. REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Activists hold a rapid response demonstration to implore countries to phase out all fossil fuels, at the COP27 climate summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 18, 2022. REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Tony Blair, former UK prime minister and executive chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change:

"Domestically and internationally, the UAE has shown leadership in climate investment and innovation. It is already one of the largest investors in renewables at home and abroad and is an innovator in technologies crucial to the energy transition, such as carbon capture and low-carbon hydrogen.

"The country is an exemplar of the public and private sector working in partnership. 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."

Romain Ioualalen, global policy manager, Oil Change International:

"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."

Maria Mendiluce, CEO, We Mean Business Coalition:

"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.

"Business needs the COP28 presidency to mobilise 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."

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, COP20 president, ex-Peru environment minister and current WWF global climate and energy lead:

"In time, we will realise that 2021-2022 was a critical turning point. It is the moment that a few calls at COP to once and for all end climate-wrecking fossil fuels became an undeniable clamour.

"We need COP28 in the UAE to build on this foundation with a well-considered approach that quickly enables the whole world to fully embrace a complete transition to clean energy. We have no more time to lose."

Yvo de Boer, former U.N. climate chief from 2006 to 2010 and current president of Gold Standard, which certifies carbon offsets:

"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-focused."

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Kieran Guilbert.)


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