Sultan Al-Jaber, Abu Dhabi’s oil chief, will lead COP28 summit talks in Dubai. The decision prompted calls for him to step down from the role and fuelled activists’ fear that his appointment could hinder efforts to phase out fossil fuels.

The head of state oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) will oversee this year’s COP28 climate summit, the United Arab Emirates said on Thursday.

Sultan al-Jaber, who is also the UAE’s special envoy on climate change and minister of industry and technology, will play a pivotal role in shaping climate negotiations during the two-week conference set to begin in late November.

In a statement, Jaber said the UAE was “approaching COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition,” adding that it will bring “a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach that delivers transformative progress for the climate and low carbon economic growth”.

The decision provoked a backlash from climate advocates and environmentalists, who fear Jaber’s connection to ADNOC – a state-owned company that pumps almost all the crude oil in the UAE and produces about 3.2 million barrels a day – will hinder progress on global fossil fuel phase-out.

Lisa Schipper, lead author on last year’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate adaptation, described Jaber’s appointment as a “conflict of interest,” adding that his COP28 presidency was “tantamount to a full-scale capture of the UN climate talks by a petrostate national oil company and its associated fossil fuel lobbyists”. 

Green groups had already strongly condemned the appointment of the UAE as host of the upcoming COP28 summit in Dubai, one of the world’s largest oil producers and a major OPEC exporter. President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan recently said that oil and gas are key to a smooth energy transition and assured the UAE will keep providing fossil fuels to countries around the world “for as long as the world needs it.” 

At last year’s COP27, Egypt was criticised for allowing hundreds of companies linked to the fossil fuel industry to sponsor the event. Research compiled by Corporate European Observatory and Corporate Accountability found that 95% of COP27 sponsors – including banks, companies involved in building and operating gas-fired power plants as well as silicon valley giants – had ties to the industry. Criticism mounted as it became clear that COP27 was also shaped by the presence of hundreds of fossil-fuel representatives. Compared to Glasgow’s 2021 summit, fossil fuel lobbyists joining the climate talks in Egypt rose 25%, amounting to 636 people lobbyists.

Featured image by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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