US, EU want Cop28 president out over fossil fuel job

Al-Jaber COP28

Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber has been named as president of this year's COP28 climate talks to be held at Expo City Dubai from November 30th to December 12th.

Photo credit: AFP

Members of the United States Congress and the European Parliament are calling for the president of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to be replaced because of his involvement in fossil fuel production.

Sultan Al Jaber, who was appointed COP28 president earlier this year, is the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

In a letter co-signed and addressed to US President Joe Biden, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Executive Secretary Simon Stiell, the lawmakers express concern about the influence of polluters at climate conferences.

The letter is published on the White House Senate website.

They suggest that measures should be taken to expose the polluters attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"This will help ensure that climate science takes precedence over climate delay and green washing," they say.

Green washing is a term used in the climate arena to describe false marketing and advertising strategies designed to deceive stakeholders into believing that a particular product is environmentally friendly.

"We urge you to engage in diplomatic efforts to secure the withdrawal of the president-elect of COP28, and to take immediate steps to limit the influence of polluting industries at UNFCCC meetings, particularly large fossil fuel companies whose business strategies are clearly at odds with the central goals of the Paris Agreement," the letter reads.

Dr Mithika Mwenda, the executive director of the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance, wrote in a statement reiterating its support for the US lawmakers' letter.

Dr Mwenda adds that there must be a robust conflict of interest policy that limits the participation and access of polluting industries.

"We call for the exclusion of fossil fuel companies and their lobby groups from official delegations, side events, sponsorships and exhibitions," he said.

"We demand that all parties and observers report on their sources and amounts of funding from private sector actors and that this information be made publicly available," he added.

At the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27), held in Egypt last year, data from Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory and Global Witness showed a 25 per cent increase in fossil fuel lobbyists compared to previous years.

"When the number of attendees representing polluting corporate actors with a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo outnumbers the delegations of almost every country in attendance, it is easy to see how their presence could obstruct climate action," the letter said.

This coincides with an analysis published in the journal One Earth, which shows that fossil fuel companies, which have been playing the game of paying for their contribution to climate change, now have a tentative figure on how much they will have to pay.

The researchers show that even before companies decide how to pay climate reparations, they must first reduce future emissions at a rate consistent with minimising damage, as recommended in the International Energy Agency's 2021 roadmap.

"This requires no further investment in new fossil fuel projects and minimal absolute emissions and offsets by mid-century," they said.

The scientists explain that greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the behaviour of three groups of actors: those who supply the global economy with the products whose combustion generates fossil fuel emissions (producers); those who use their carbon fuels as intended (emitters); and those who, under the weight of scientific evidence and international agreements, should (or should not) act to reduce emissions (political authorities).

"As an incentive for early action, we propose that companies should be eligible for reduced compensation if they meet aggressive targets to reduce carbon fuel production faster than required by a net zero pathway by 2050 under a 1.5°C scenario," they said.

Joab Okanda, Pan Africa Senior Advocacy Advisor and Climate Justice Advocate, told the Nation that this is a timely analysis, linking it to the outcome of the recent United Nations global climate conference.

"This is an important argument for loss and damage (irreparable loss and damage that cannot be solved by either adaptation or mitigation)," he said.

"In East Africa, for example, if fossil fuel polluters were to pay, they should pay farmers whose crops were damaged by locusts that invaded their farms, people whose homes were washed away by floods, droughts that led to loss of life and livelihoods, bridges built by governments in flood-prone areas," he explained.

Joab explained that Kenya is already losing about three to five per cent of its GDP to the climate crisis.

"Our governments continue to go into debt to take care of people affected by climate-related crises. It is time to restore the dignity of the people, so polluters should pay for their mistakes," he said.

Joab accuses fossil fuel lobbyists of coming up with 'false solutions' that will absolve them of their already skyrocketing emissions.

Already, the World Meteorological Organisation has warned that the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit set in Paris under the Paris Agreement is likely to be reached as early as 2027.

"The irony for Africa is that fossil fuel-dependent countries like South Africa and Nigeria have the worst energy access and electricity challenges," Joab said.