The climate agenda: Questions on appointment of oil chief picked to head COP28

Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber

the United Arab Emirates' minister of state and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, speaks during CERAWeek by S&P Global in Houston, Texas on March 6, 2023.

Photo credit: Mark Felix | AFP

The chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s largest oil companies, has dismissed concerns of greenwashing fossil fuels, arguing instead that the oil and gas industry is crucial to solving the climate challenge.

Dr Sultan al-Jaber made the remarks as he defended his appointment as the president of the 28th session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties.

“Energy leaders have the knowledge, experience, expertise and resources needed to address the dual challenge of driving sustainable progress while holding back emissions,” he said In his keynote address at the CERA Week energy event, currently underway in Houston, United States.

“Every government, every industry, every business, and every individual has a role to play. No one can be on the sidelines. And this industry, in particular, is integral to developing the solutions. In fact, this industry must take responsibility and lead the way,” he said.

Dr Al-Jaber’s appointment as the COP 28 president-designate sparked outrage among environmental groups, as many questions why the United Arab Emirates, the host of COP28, would choose an oil executive to lead a conference where many are pushing for the complete phase-out of fossil fuels.

The UAE, however, pointed out Al-Jaber’s green credentials, including his work as the special envoy for climate change.

The UAE also said that Al-Jaber has played an active participatory role in more than 10 UN Climate change conferences and is therefore the perfect person to lead the climate talks this November in Dubai.

As the world seeks to stem the further rising global temperatures and meet the aspirations of the Paris Agreement, there has been an aggressive push for a phase-out of fossil fuels, a key driver of global warming, at the UN climate summits.

COP 26 came close to making it happen when fossil fuels were mentioned for the first time in the agreement.

Earlier drafts of the Glasgow Climate Pact had text to a phase out of fossil fuels, but this was changed at the last minute to say “phase-down of fossil fuels”, following an amendment from India.

Al Jaber says he agrees that the world needs to decarbonize quickly to keep the 1.50C goal alive, and it is important to note that some progress has been made towards this in the oil and gas sector.

“Only half of the industry has declared a net-zero goal by 2050. Everyone in the industry needs to be aligned around the same goal. And we should stretch ourselves to go further. Let’s aim to achieve net-zero even earlier. Let’s also scale up best practices to reach net-zero methane emissions by 2030. Let’s electrify operations, equip facilities with carbon capture and storage, and use all available technologies to increase efficiency.”

Environmentalists have argued that there is no such thing as clean fossil fuels since that is simply greenwashing an evil that the world needs to do away with, but, according to players in the fossil fuel industry, frowning upon the industry is not the way to go, because, with a fast-growing population, the world needs all hands on deck if the change is to happen.

“Making a dent in the climate crisis is not just about decarbonizing oil and gas operations. With the right incentives, the right technologies, the right mindset and the right partnership model, the oil and gas industry has the capacity and the resources to help everyone adapt,” Al Jaber said in his address.

Global energy demand is expected to rise as the population is projected to grow by half a billion people by 2030. At that same time, emissions will need to have dropped by 43% if the 1.50C goal is to be achieved.

Meeting the energy demands of this growing population in an environmentally friendly way is one of the challenges policymakers face, and the calls for a phase out of fossil fuels are expected to grow loud at COP 28.

“This year, the world will evaluate exactly where we are regarding climate progress through the first Global Stocktake. And we know we are way off track. We need a major course correction.”

Kenya is among the countries that have committed to a clean energy transition by 2050, in line with its climate action plan. Transition includes a switch from fossil fuel-powered engines hydrogen and electric.