UAE names its oil company chief to lead U.N. COP28 climate talks : NPR

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The Minister of State of the Emirates and the CEO of the state company of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber speaks at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on October 31, 2022.

Kamran Jebreili/AP

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Kamran Jebreili/AP

The Minister of State of the Emirates and the CEO of the state company of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber speaks at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on October 31, 2022.

Kamran Jebreili/AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates on Thursday named a veteran technocrat who both heads Abu Dhabi’s state-run oil company and oversees its renewable energy efforts to be the -chairman of the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations in Dubai, emphasizing the balancing act. ahead for this crude producing nation.

Authorities have named Sultan al-Jaber, a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who serves as CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. That firm pumps about 4 million barrels of crude a day and hopes to expand to 5 million. every day.

That income boosts the ambitions of this federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula — as well as producing more of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that UN negotiations hope to limit.

But al-Jaber also once spearheaded a once-ambitious project to have a $22 billion “carbon-neutral” city on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi — an effort later scaled back after the global financial crisis hit the Emirates with hard way in early 2008. Even today, he serves as the chairman of Masdar, a clean energy company that grew out of the project.

“Sultan al-Jaber has the credentials and the background to tap into the trends that are already underway,” said Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst for a risk intelligence firm called the RANE Network. “Being an oil man, I don’t think it will be that big of a risk for him.”

The Emirates state-run WAM quoted al-Jaber, a longtime climate envoy, as saying “it will be a critical year in a critical decade for climate action.” He called for a “pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach” to limit global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050. Scientists say that limit could avoid or at least reduce some of the most catastrophic damage of climate change in the future. .

Al-Jaber’s nomination, however, drew immediate criticism. Harjeet Singh, who is the head of Global Policy Strategy at the International Climate Action Network, said that al-Jaber holding the title of CEO at the state oil company created an “unprecedented conflict of interest and alarming.”

“There can be no place for a polluter at a climate conference, least of all chairing a COP,” Singh said.

Alice Harrison of Global Witness put it even more clearly: “You don’t invite arms dealers to lead peace talks. So why let oil executives lead climate talks?” Greenpeace said it was “deeply alarmed” by the appointment of al-Jaber, adding: “This sets a dangerous precedent, which risks the credibility of the UAE and the trust that has been placed in them.”

Every year, the country that hosts the UN negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where the COP is named — nominates a person to lead the talks. The hosts typically choose a veteran diplomat as talks can be incredibly difficult to conduct between competing nations and their interests. The position of the person nominated as “president of the COP” is confirmed by the delegates at the beginning of the talks, usually without objections.

The caliber of COP presidents has varied over the years. Observers widely saw Britain’s Alok Sharma as energetic and committed to achieving an ambitious result.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, on the other hand, faced criticism from some for the chaotic and sometimes non-transparent way he presided over last year’s meeting.

A call by countries, including India and the United States, for a gradual reduction of oil and natural gas, for example, never came up for public discussion during the meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where Shoukry control the agenda.

Activists worry that the COP being held in a Middle Eastern nation that depends on the sale of fossil fuels for the second consecutive year could see something similar happen in the Emirates.

WAM said the Emirates had invested “more than $50 billion in renewable energy projects across 70 countries, with plans to invest a minimum of $50 billion over the next decade.” It was not immediately clear where those figures came from.

Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, has invested about $3.9 billion since 2018 in renewable energy, according to New York-based research firm Global SWF. Masdar listed that it had $14.3 billion in investments in 2020. Masdar did not respond to questions about its investments Thursday.

By comparison, Mubadala invested $9.8 billion during the same period in oil and gas projects, Global SWF said.

The UAE is home to a huge solar park in Dubai, as well as the Barakah Nuclear Plant, which is the Arabian Peninsula’s only source of atomic energy. But it also requires vast amounts of energy to run the desalination plants that have brought green golf courses to its desert expanses, powering the air conditioners that cool its cavernous malls in the heat of the summer and operate heavy industries such as aluminum foundries.

The UAE’s clean energy policies grew in the mid-2000s as Dubai’s real estate boom saw it build the world’s tallest buildings and massive palm-shaped archipelagos. off its coast. The World Wildlife Fund at the time estimated that the UAE had the world’s largest ecological footprint per capita – meaning that each of its residents used more resources on average than those living in any other nation another. The UAE continues to rank high in similar lists.

The Masdar City project grew out of that concern to be tarnished, before being torn back.

“For us to actually do this and invest the money, we had access to lessons learned that no one else had access to,” al-Jaber told The Associated Press in 2010. “We have to learn, adjust, adapt and move forward. We can” be rigid.”

The UAE then pivoted Masdar City into a campus that now houses the UN’s International Renewable Energy Agency and the firm itself to invest in renewable energies at home and abroad. Joe Biden, just before leaving office as vice president of America, even visited Masdar City in 2016.

Analysts believe that Emirates is trying to maximize its profits before the world turns more and more towards renewable sources. Emirates itself has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 — a goal that remains difficult to assess and one that authorities have not fully explained how they will achieve.

The UAE “has made no bones about being a major producer of oil and gas and is presumably very well connected to the rulers in the country,” said Alden Meyer, an observer at the climate talks in the environmental think tank E3G. “I hope (al-Jaber) has good diplomatic and negotiation skills and the ability to build consensus and compromise.”

The COP28 will take place in the Expo City of Dubai from November 30 to December 12.

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