Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President of the COP28 Climate Summit at the opening ceremony in Dubai, November 30, 2023 (Getty Images)

On November 30, dozens of world leaders and government ministers from nearly 200 countries flocked to the UAE, one of the world's major oil producers, for the world's most important climate event, the United Nations Climate Summit (COP28). The summit comes after a year of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and floods, and will be the first global assessment of progress since the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015.

While the talks are necessary to secure the global agreements needed to avoid dangerous climate change, confidence at the summit is at an all-time low, in part by the responsible man whose position gives him a great deal of control over the agenda of the conference taking place in Expo City Dubai until December 12.

"Fox guarding a chicken coop"

In early 2023, the UAE sparked a firestorm by announcing that the person it chose to chair a summit that seeks to reduce the use of traditional fuels in the world is the same CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), overseeing a major expansion of its fossil fuel production, one of the summit's most common issues and may be the key factor determining its success.

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, an engineer, businessman and politician, nicknamed Dr. Sultan, received a PhD in Business and Economics from Coventry University, studied in the United States, is currently Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Cabinet Member in the Federal Government, and has also held other ministerial positions, and was the country's climate envoy from 2010 to 2016, and was reappointed to this position in 2020.

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Cabinet Member of the Federal Government (French)

Born in 50 in um Al Quwain, one of the lesser-known emirates, the 1973-year-old "oil and gas man" is not a member of any of the ruling families of the seven emirates, but rose through the ranks of Emirati society to a number of senior positions he occupies, and became a trusted confidant of the ruling family. As Chairman of the National Media Council from 2015 to 2020, he oversaw Emirati media outlets that rank poorly in press freedom.

The decision to appoint a chief executive of a state oil company overseeing much of the damage to the planet is the first of its kind since the climate conference began in Berlin in 1995, and this is the first time a fossil fuel industry has led climate negotiations hosted by a different country each year.

Interestingly, this decision came at a time when public opinion movements in industrialized countries have been escalating since the last quarter of the twentieth century, and environmental advocates are racing against time to protect the planet from natural and climatic disasters mainly caused by fossil fuels and extensive oil and gas exploration, which caused high temperatures and significant changes in climate and the environment.

From the first moments of his tenure, the controversial president of the Conference of the Parties made headlines, and many politicians, scientists, and activists criticized his appointment for his dual role, objecting to the fact that the person whose daily job is to extract more fossil fuels to destroy the environment is the same person responsible for solving the climate crisis and trying to secure game-changing deals.

For nearly a year, human rights activists and environmental critics have been criticizing al-Jaber's commitment to preserving the role of fossil fuels in the energy transition, seeing his appointment as a breakthrough for the United Nations and an attempt to control global efforts to curb climate change. Al-Jaber's dual role has drawn strong criticism, including from former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres who described his approach as "dangerous."

US climate envoy John Kerry called Sultan al-Jaber a "great option" to chair the talks (Getty Images)

European Parliament MP Michael Ploss compared his appointment to assigning "someone in the tobacco industry to develop policies to reduce smoking", Amnesty International's climate adviser Anne Harrison described it "as if a fox was guarding a chicken coop", and other climate activists described al-Jaber as "a dracula (vampire) in charge of the blood bank".

Oil torch or fire extinguisher

His proponents say he has the power to get things done and overcome the divisions that will bring climate action to life, citing his 20 years of experience as an energy engineer and a top global industry leader, his experience attending 11 previous UN climate conferences, his pledge to shift ADNOC's business away from fossil fuels and his role in founding a renewable energy company.

Al Jaber received support from prominent figures shortly after his appointment as ADNOC's chairman, and was defended by others including EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, with Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Graham Stewart calling him "an outstanding person" and US climate envoy John Kerry calling him a "great option" to chair the talks, but the main driver of the climate crisis is products his company plans to continue selling in huge quantities for decades to come.

As a key figure in the oil industry, Al Jaber leads one of the world's largest fossil fuel companies by production, which provides about 3% of global oil and pumps 2.7 million barrels of oil per day in 2021, with plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, representing the fifth largest increase in the world.

Al Jaber is also the chairman of the state-owned renewable energy company Masdar, which he co-founded in 2006 and oversaw its expansion into clean technologies such as wind and solar, and today has investments in renewables in more than 40 countries around the world.

Sultan Al Jaber heads state renewable energy company Masdar, which he co-founded in 2006 (Reuters)

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg called the appointment "utterly absurd" and said it questioned the goals of the entire UN climate process, while former US Vice President Al Gore, a longtime climate activist, said that "fossil fuel interests have dominated the UN climate process."

As countries prepared for the next round of climate talks in Bonn, Switzerland, last June, more than 130 lawmakers from the United States and the European Union called for limiting the influence of fossil fuel industry lobbyists, who wrote a joint letter addressed to the United Nations, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden, demanding Al-Jaber's dismissal. The decision to appoint him threatens to undermine negotiations, and human rights group Amnesty International reiterated its call on Al-Jaber to step down from his role at ADNOC to ensure the success of the COP28 summit.

Conflicting interests

Sultan al-Jaber insisted there was no contradiction between being an oil company president and a climate diplomat, instead saying that his dual role enabled him to convince fossil fuel companies to change and reconcile the many interests in climate control, and that his experience as head of an oil company increased his ability to leverage solutions, and some early successes in the talks provided some credence to this claim.

Yet he still appears to be challenged to achieve cooperation between the world's largest carbon emitters – China and the United States – and has devoted himself to shuttle diplomacy between the two rival countries, relying on a personal relationship with both U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua to help agree on significant commitments to reduce methane emissions. However, the larger issue of ending divisions over the continuing role of hydrocarbons has yet to be resolved.

Al Jaber's appointment at the head of crucial UN climate talks has led to scrutiny of his oil company, which patrick Galley, chief fossil fuel researcher, says plans regardless of COP28 to produce more oil than almost any other operator on the planet, in direct contravention of the scientific consensus that Al Jaber was tasked with building negotiations on in Dubai.

As president of the climate conference, Al Jaber is tasked with sponsoring countries toward more ambitious climate action through rapid and equitable phase-out of oil and gas, starting with his own business, making across-the-board cuts in fossil fuel emissions to zero, and rapidly reducing worsening climate impacts.

Al Jaber's oil company ADNOC plans to invest $150 billion in oil and gas expansion capacity this decade (Getty Images)

The trap of contradictions

As for Al Jaber who fell into the trap of contradictions, ADNOC, which recently became the first of its peers to aspire to net zero emissions until 2045, announced in January this year $15 billion to invest in "low-carbon solutions" by 2030, in addition to announcing $40 billion investment in renewable energy and clean technology globally over the past 100 years, and signing a partnership in November. last year with the United States to invest an additional $<> billion in clean energy.

At the same time as UAE leaders announced that their country will celebrate the "last barrel of oil" by mid-century, ADNOC plans to invest $150 billion in oil and gas expansion capacity this decade, and the company has signed contracts to increase oil production capacity to 5 million barrels per day by 2030, the year in which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Jaber himself say greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 43 percent before reaching it. It is a serious conflict of interest.

At the level of the state sponsor of global emissions reduction efforts at the moment, about 13% of its exports come directly from oil and gas, accounting for about 30% of GDP, and many of its other industries – including construction and travel – are also linked to fossil fuels.

In addition to increasing its production aggressively in the short term, ADNOC is on track to become the world's second-largest oil producer by 2050, according to a new analysis by the NGO Global Witness, and its assets under management are expected to produce 35.9 billion barrels of oil between the beginning of 2023 and the end of 2050, surpassing the output of any of the Big Five companies: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total Energy, which will curb the output of major European companies.

According to the analysis, total emissions from oil products managed by ADNOC alone will reach more than 14.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, far more than the annual emissions of China, the world's largest emitter, and it also means that oil and gas managed by ADNOC alone will burn nearly 6% of the world's remaining carbon budget to limit temperature rise at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Al-Jaber and the outputs of COP28

However, Al-Jaber did not hide the importance of fossil fuels in meeting global energy requirements, and this was evident in his speech at the "Petersburg Climate Dialogue" hosted by Germany in July 2022, he explained that his country wants to keep fossil fuels as an option for the foreseeable future, and insisted that oil and gas can continue to play a role to help meet the global market's need for new energy systems, and instead of dispensing with fossil fuels, he saw that the goals of the climate summit should It focuses on ensuring the phasing out of emissions from all sectors be it oil or gas or high-emission industries.

Holding a climate summit in an oil state has increased tension and criticism and all eyes have turned to Al-Jaber to see if he can fulfill his pledge (Getty Images)

Two days before the summit, the Climate Report Centre and the BBC published leaked documents from an amount inside the COP28 office revealing plans to use the UAE's role as host of climate talks as an opportunity to seal fossil fuel deals, showing that Al Jaber intends to use the presidency of the COP as an opportunity to conclude oil and gas deals with 15 countries including China, Brazil, Egypt and Germany.

As negotiations entered their final phase, discussions over fossil fuels have heated up, especially after a response he gave to former Irish president and UN special envoy for climate Mary Robinson during a live event on November 21, in which Al-Jaber claimed that "there is no science to suggest that there is a need to phase out fossil fuels to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius," adding that this would "return the world to caves," according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

As soon as al-Jaber's remarks became public, he was attacked by the scientific community, with leading experts citing the overwhelming amount of strong evidence proving the urgent need to stop coal, gas and oil, prompting a press conference during which he angrily defended his position on ending the use of fossil fuels, claiming that his speech had been distorted, and accusing those who posted his comments of "undermining" his message.

Since then, rising tensions over the decision to hold a global climate summit in an oil state have gone public, and all eyes have turned to Al Jaber to see if he can deliver on his pledge to keep hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The remarks found their way into the halls of the climate conference, and his actions encouraged many countries to use weaker language and renege on their climate pledges. Of the nearly 200 countries that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, at least 80 support the elimination of fossil fuels to achieve the Paris goal of limiting global warming to less than 1 degrees Celsius, while aiming for a ceiling of 5.<> degrees Celsius. On the other side of the divide, the United States objects mainly to these claims, having withdrawn from a Dutch plan to end fossil fuel subsidies.

OPEC members have sought to thwart attempts to include "phase-out" fossil fuels in COP28 final deal (Getty Images)

Fossil fuel disposal

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), including the host country, one of OPEC's largest oil producers, have also been among the biggest opponents, and have sought to thwart attempts to include formula on "phasing out" fossil fuels in the conference's final agreement, and Saudi Arabia has ruled out agreeing to any gradual phase-out of oil, which raised the level of tension at the climate conference and highlighted the conflict over whether the conference can overcome the dilemma of the future. Oil and gas for the first time in 30 years.

As the climate conference draws to a close, international interests seem to overwhelm a complex landscape that can be explained by a look at what fossil fuels constitute from energy production for the main players in the fossil fuel industry whose business strategies clearly contradict the central objectives of the Paris Agreement, and we find that the United States - the first country to oppose the cessation of the use of fossil fuels - comes to the fore, as fossil fuels accounted for 60% of electricity generation in 2022, and fossil fuels contributed 33% of electricity production. in the European Union in the first half of 2023.

Moving to the Gulf countries, according to the International Energy Agency in 2021, the Gulf Cooperation Council supported fossil fuel energy production worth $ 76 billion, and therefore fossil fuels accounted for 4.5% of the GDP in the Gulf countries in 2021, which raises the question of the success of the countries participating in the climate summit in completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels in electricity production over the coming years.

Despite the UN's emphasis on the basic principle of climate summit chairs and their offices, which is "commitment to neutrality", press reports a year after Al-Jaber was appointed president of the climate summit, revealed that COP28 and ADNOC shared the same electronic servers, enabling the state oil company to read COP28 office mails and was consulted on how to respond to media inquiries, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

These positions may be enough to turn COP28 into a platform for empty promises, says Amnesty International, warning against governments pretending to take steps but actually doing nothing, but ultimately, the success of the UAE's leadership of the climate talks, and the COP28 president himself, will be judged by the results achieved at the summit.

Source : Al Jazeera