The United Arab Emirates on Thursday named the head of its national oil company to lead global climate talks at the COP28 conference in Dubai later this year, a controversial appointment that further fuels concerns that strong fossil fuel interests will undermine efforts to tackle the climate crisis at the summit later this year.
The UAE named Sultan Al Jaber as president for the COP28 climate talks, which the oil-rich state is hosting from the end of November.
Al Jaber, who has served as the UAE’s climate envoy and is the country’s minister of industry and advanced technology, heads renewable energy company Masdar and state owned oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the biggest oil companies in the world.
As president, Al Jaber, the first CEO to hold the role, will play a key role in forging consensus between nations and setting the summit’s agenda.
The appointment of a major fossil fuel executive to lead the summit provoked swift and fierce backlash from environmental activists, many of whom were already concerned the talks are hosted by one of the world’s biggest oil exporters.
Al Jaber’s appointment “poses an outrageous conflict of interest” and takes the presence of fossil fuel lobbyists at the UN talks “to another dangerous and unprecedented level,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.
Teresa Anderson, global lead on climate justice at the NGO ActionAid said the appointment “goes beyond putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” according to AFP.
The UAE will be the second Arab state to host the UN’s climate summit in as many years this November, following on from Egypt last year. This year’s summit is an important one, pegged as a “global stocktake” to assess the progress since under the Paris Agreement, and the UAE’s selection as host has proven controversial, particularly after Egypt invited oil and gas companies to participate formally for the first time. Though investing heavily in clean energy, something the statement announcing Al Jaber’s appointment emphasized, the UAE has and continues to profit handsomely from its rich fossil fuel reserves and is a major producer of oil and gas. Analysts have suggested the country is trying to have its cake and eat it, maximizing its profits from fossil fuels before the world switches to more sustainable sources and using events like COP28 to boost its climate credentials and launder its reputation.
Experts state a rapid and stark shift away from fossil fuels is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, which evidence shows is unequivocally caused by human action. Experts, officials and activists warn that lobbying from fossil fuel industries undermine efforts to achieve consensus on global climate action and the number of lobbyists exploded at last year’s conference in Egypt. Many of the world’s energy producers, including Gulf states like the UAE, have pushed for a more gradual transition away from fossil fuels and to allow these fuels to be used alongside cleaner alternatives in contrast to demands for more urgent action.