Oil company CEO to lead United Nations climate talks in Dubai
Sultan al-Jaber also oversees renewable energy efforts in Abu Dhabi
The United Arab Emirates has nominated the leader of a state oil company to be the president of the upcoming United Nations climate summit, COP28, in Dubai, sparking concerns of a conflict of interest.
Sultan al-Jaber, who also oversees Abu Dhabi's renewable energy efforts, is currently CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. That firm pumps some four million barrels of crude a day and hopes to expand to five million daily.
Al-Jaber, a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also once headed up a project to have a $22-billion "carbon-neutral" city on Abu Dhabi's outskirts. That effort was later pared back after the 2008 global financial crisis struck the Emirates. Today, he serves as the chair of Masdar, a clean energy company that grew out of the project.
The nomination drew immediate criticism, with some calling for him to step down from his position at the oil company at least for the duration of COP28.
"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," said Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network International.
Alice Harrison of Global Witness put it even more bluntly: "You wouldn't invite arms dealers to lead peace talks. So why let oil executives lead climate talks?"
Greenpeace said it was "deeply alarmed" by al-Jaber's appointment, adding: "This sets a dangerous precedent, risking the credibility of the UAE and the trust that has been placed in them."
Al-Jaber calls for pragmatic approach
Others suggested that chairing an oil company and advocating for climate action do not have to be mutually exclusive.
"Sultan al-Jaber has the credentials and background to lean into trends that are already ongoing," said Ryan Bohl, a Mideast analyst for a risk-intelligence firm called the RANE Network.
"Him being an oilman, I don't think that will be that big of a risk for him."
Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, threw his support behind the nomination, saying that al-Jaber "has been instrumental" on green innovation and renewable energy.
The Emirates' state-run WAM news agency quoted al-Jaber as saying that it "will be a critical year in a critical decade for climate action."
Al-Jaber called for "a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach" to limit global warming to just 1.5 C by 2050. Scientists say that limit can avoid or at least lessen some of the most catastrophic future climate change harms.
Typically, the country hosting the UN negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties picks a veteran diplomat to preside over the summit, as the talks can be incredibly difficult to steer between competing nations and their interests. The nominee's position as "COP president" is confirmed by delegates at the start of the talks, usually without objections.
COP28 will be held at Dubai's Expo City from Nov. 30 through Dec. 12.