Zero: Why is COP28 letting a fox guard the henhouse?

Zero: Why is COP28 letting a fox guard the henhouse?

Talk about letting the fox into the henhouse.

Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber may be a competent politician, diplomat and business leader. But whether the United Arab Emirates’ minister of industry and advanced technology is well suited to chair the forthcoming UN climate summit, COP28, in Dubai this November is a different matter.

Besides his cabinet duties, al-Jaber happens to be chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the Middle East’s largest fossil fuel producers. “The appointment of an oil company executive to head COP28 poses a risk to the negotiation process as well as the whole conference itself,” 27 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives wrote in January to John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate change. They urged Kerry to put pressure on the UAE to withdraw al-Jaber’s appointment.

“Having a fossil fuel champion in charge of the world’s most important climate negotiations would be like having the CEO of a cigarette conglomerate in charge of global tobacco policy,” added the lawmakers, all Democrats. Indeed, one of al-Jaber’s goals at ADNOC has been to expand the company’s crude oil output from three million barrels a day in 2016 to five million by 2030.

Activist climate groups, including Greenpeace, Global Witness and Climate Action Network International, have also slammed the UAE’s choice. “You wouldn’t invite arms dealers to lead peace talks,” Alice Harrison of Global Witness told the Associated Press. “So why let oil executives lead climate talks?”

However, Kerry and others have stoutly defended the 49-year-old, California-educated chemical engineer. “Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company,” Kerry told the AP. “That company knows it needs to transition.”

Al-Jaber’s supporters point to his role as founder of Masdar, also known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, another UAE government-owned business that develops utility-scale renewable energy projects around the world.

It is true that, despite a long attachment to oil, the UAE has invested heavily in renewables at home and abroad, as well as in technologies such as lower-carbon hydrogen and carbon capture. ADNOC became a shareholder in Masdar last year.

Chances are slim that al-Jaber will be replaced. Even so, the furor over his appointment will have served a purpose if organizers of future climate conferences make a little more effort to ensure that high-level appointments pass the smell test.

Photos: and illustration by Joren Cullen

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