All true: the CEO of one of the largest oil multinationals in the world will chair the next COP28, the United Nations climate conference that will host the negotiations necessary to understand how to save us from the climate crisis. A choice that infuriates environmentalists and astounds the same scientists who for years have been remembering how to reverse the course of overheating it is necessary to curb emissions derived from fossil fuels such as oil, coal or gas.
Sultan Al Jaber president of COP28
In the last few hours, Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber was in fact officially nominated as president of the COP28 which will be held at the end of the year in Dubai: at the same time – a role he has not abandoned – he is also CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), a company of the The UAE pumps around 4 million barrels of crude oil a day and is aiming to reach 5 million barrels by 2027. Al Jaber, 49, is also the UAE’s minister of industry and technology, as well as a company manager linked to the world of renewable energies and special envoy for the climate of his country. Last year, COP27 in Egypt was inundated with criticism for various inconclusive results and for inconsistencies that over time have opened up more controversies on the usefulness, credibility and very role of the Conference of the parties on climate.
The Germanwatch report
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Among these was reported, for example, the presence, among the pavilions of Sharm El-Sheikh, of 25% more than the previous COP of fossil industry lobbyists. Not only that: strong criticisms have also come from the fact that it was not possible to specify or underline, in the final texts, the damages caused by the emissions of fossil fuels. Before that, Greta Thunberg had refused to participate, defining the COP as now a “greenwashing operation”. Controversies that are now further fueled by the decision to place a CEO of a multinational oil company to preside over future negotiations. However, his other public side, that of his commitment to clean energy, would have prevailed to justify the decision to put Al Jaber at the head of the future COP. The sultan is chairman of Masdar, a renewable energy company that now operates in more than 40 countries and has spearheaded several “green” initiatives including the planning of a $22 billion carbon-neutral city on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, a project then discontinued.
The Sultan’s vision: “Maintain an energy mix, including oil”
Among the prospects indicated by Al Jaber in the fight against emissions there is clearly not the immediate abandonment of the use of fossil fuels, as science requires, but he has spoken several times of the commitment and importance of new technologies to capture CO2 or store it. News agencies of the Emirates, in breaking the news of his appointment, speak of the intention to “bring a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach that leads to transformative progress for the climate and for low-carbon economic growth” and they recalled the country’s willingness to invest “in renewable energies”.
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But it is in a speech by Al Jaber published in Project Syndicate last August that the new COP president’s vision of the fight against the climate crisis is best understood. On that occasion, for example, he recalled the importance of renewables, stressing however the need to continue with an “energy mix” that also includes oil or coal. “Recent events have shown that disconnecting the current energy system before having built a sufficiently robust alternative puts both economic and climate progress at risk and calls into question the possibility of guaranteeing a just transition that is fair for all”, the sultan wrote, underlining that “policies aimed at divesting from hydrocarbons too soon, without adequate viable alternatives, are counterproductive. They will undermine energy security, erode economic stability and leave less revenue available to invest in the energy transition”. In his letter we read the acknowledgment of the impact that oil and gas can have on the climate, but to reduce it the abandonment of fossil fuels is not specified but the increase of technologies to have lower carbon emissions. Through it all, the UAE has nonetheless committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
The anger of environmentalists and the controversy surrounding his appointment
While European Union climate policy chief Frans Timmermans explained that he will meet with Al Jaber soon, there has been a flurry of criticism of the new appointment from environmentalists. For example, Harjeet Singh, who heads global policy strategy at Climate Action Network International, argues that the sultan’s position represents “an unprecedented and alarming conflict of interest. There can be no place for polluters in a climate conference,” he said. let alone preside over a COP”. Same position for Alice Harrison of Global Witness: “You wouldn’t invite arms dealers to lead peace talks. So why let oil executives lead the climate talks?” she declared. Even Vanessa Nakate, a young activist of Fridays For Future and a symbol of green protests together with Greta, said she was concerned: “COP28 must accelerate the global phasing out of fossil fuels, we cannot have another COP where interests on fossil fuels they sacrifice our future to earn a few more years of profit.”
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Most likely the Al Jaber issue will now also be the subject of debate at the World Economic Forum which begins in a few days, on January 16 in Davos. This year the central theme will be that of the climate crisis: for example, we will discuss whether the current economy will allow, as scientists ask, carbon dioxide emissions to be halved within the next seven years if we want to have the possibility of staying within the threshold of +1.5 degrees. The point is, will we be able to discuss it coherently? A report just released by Greenpeace, in fact, underlines how this coherence continues to be lacking year after year: in the last edition, to meet in Switzerland, politicians, leaders and economists would have used so many private jets as to quadruple emissions, essentially they were four times higher to those which on average are attributed to this type of aircraft in the other weeks of the year.