April 19, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

by Gabriella Sotelo (16 January 2023)

The next United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as what will be COP 28 November 2023, will take place in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has recently announced that the talks will be led by Sultan Al Jaber, who is the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil companies.

COP28 will, as previous climate conferences, help determine whether the world is on track to tackle the climate crisis. However this year the nations attending have to conduct a “global stocktake” which will assess how climate action is going on around the world, and if progress has been made in fulfilling the goals made in the 2015 Paris agreement. Previous COP leaders have come from various backgrounds, though most had positions that deal with environmental or energy issues. Which Al-Jaber technically does have, but which juxtaposes his other role as an oil executive. 

Al Jaber,  is the UAE’s minister of industry and advanced technology, serves as the country’s climate envoy, but is the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and has been since 2016. The company is the 12th largest oil company (by production) in the world, and the company has an oil production capacity of 4 million barrels of oil daily, with plans to increase that number to 5 million daily by 2027, which contradicts the UAE’s plans to move to net zero emissions by 2050. Al Jaber’s role as president of COP28 is a concern for climate action to be done. 

His role is especially a concern after the display of fossil fuel lobbyists that attend the COP27 climate summit. COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt saw 636 lobbyists from oil and gas industries that were registered to attend. At COP26 in Glasgow, there were 503. Lobbyists may be now encouraged to attend COP28 with Al-Jaber leading the summit, much to the disapproval of many environmental organizations and climate activists. 

The Rainforest Action Network, an environmental organization has released a statement on Al-Jaber’s appointment, and stated the following: 

“Fossil fuel lobbyists have been flooding the UN climate talks over the past several years — threatening to turn what should be a global movement to collectively tackle our climate crisis into a greenwashed consensus for business as usual.” The statement continued to say “At minimum, Sultan Al Jaber should step down from his roles at ADNOC. At best, he should decline the COP28 presidency. We continue to hope for better.”

Zeina Khalil Hajj, who is the head of global campaigning at 350.org, another international environmental organization, told the Guardian that the decision risked jeopardizing the United Nations climate progress. “We are extremely concerned that it will open the floodgates for greenwashing and oil and gas deals to keep exploiting fossil fuels,” Hajj said.

But even after calls for Al Jaber to step down from his role as CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company or his role as President of COP28, the UAE confirmed to the Guardian the he will keep his role as the head of the country’s oil company as well as sustainable energy businesses.  

A COP28 spokesperson for UAE told the Guardian “His experience uniquely positions him to be able to convene both the public and private sector to bring about pragmatic solutions to achieve the goals and aspirations of the Paris climate agreement.”

COP28 will occur between November 30 to December 12, 2023, and will be hosted in Dubai. Climate activists, and many others, will paying close attention to how the talks are conducted, as well as how Al Jaber conducts the talks.