The rumor had been buzzing for several days. Though, it seemed almost too big to be true. An oil company CEO leading a climate conference? And yet, it is the choice that was made.
The United Arab Emirates, where COP28 will be held in November and December, announced on January 12, 2023, the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber to the presidency of the climate conference. Minister of Industry, founder of an investment group in renewable energies and above all CEO of an oil company.
This is the first time that the president of an oil group – and more broadly of a company – exercises this responsibility of conductor of the climate negotiations, the one who must allow the 196 countries to find compromises to accelerate the fight against global warming. A double hat that raises questions, while climate change is mainly caused by the combustion of fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas.
This appointment has drawn strong criticism from environmental activists.
“The appointment of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber as President of COP28, while he holds the position of CEO of the national oil company of Abu Dhabi constitutes a scandalous conflict of interest”, reacted Harjeet Singh, of the organization Climate Action Network International.
“The constant threat of fossil fuel lobbyists at the UN climate negotiations has always weakened the outcome of the climate conference, but this situation is reaching another dangerous and unprecedented level,” he added.
As President of the COP, he will therefore be responsible for carrying out international climate negotiations. A major role as a conductor, both political and technical. “The role of a COP president is not to make his own ideas prevail, it is to help find a solution”, explained in 2015 Laurent Fabius, who chaired the COP21 in Paris.
“Choosing the CEO of Abu Dhabi Oil Corporation as climate chief will seem like a curious choice to many,” Ed King, an expert on climate diplomacy, said recently. “Al Jaber is officially advocating for an increase in annual fossil fuel investment of US$600 billion until 2030,” he recalls.
“We must move forward with pragmatism,” said Sultan Al Jaber in 2021, during Adipec, the world’s largest annual gathering of energy industry professionals.
A country far from being a good student in terms of climate protection
The United Arab Emirates is among the five largest emitters of CO2 per capita on the planet, just after neighboring Qatar. If this small state tries to get rid of its image of gigantic polluter by claiming for example to aim for carbon neutrality by 2050, it still depends largely on the production of oil and gas.
“Renewable energies are developing rapidly. But gas and oil remain the largest energies in the energy mix and will be for decades. The future is coming, but it’s not here yet. We must progress, with pragmatism. You can’t just unplug today’s system, ” Al Jaber said at the opening of the annual Apidec oil conference in 2021.
However Sultan Al Jaber may believe in renewable energies, he must also remember where he comes from. The one who will be 50 years old when the Cop opens has studied chemistry, commerce and economics in prestigious schools in the United States and England thanks to a scholarship provided by Adnoc.