The appointment on Thursday of the CEO of the national oil company of the United Arab Emirates at the head of COP 28 appears to some as a provocation.
The least we can say is that Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber has several hats. And that these can be contradictory. This 49-year-old Emirati was appointed president of COP 28 on Thursday, which will open in November in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Its role will therefore be to advocate for states, companies and operators around the world to mobilize more in the fight against climate change.
However, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is the boss of one of the largest oil companies in the world, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). The main public oil company in the United Arab Emirates, a country with the fourth largest oil reserves in the world, manages the oil production and exports of this rich Gulf state. And its objective is to extract the maximum revenue from this fossil fuel, which is largely responsible for global warming. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber has worked for years to increase ADNOC’s crude oil production from three million barrels of oil per day in 2016 to five million by 2030.
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But Sultan Al Jaber, perceived in his country as a reformer, sees no incompatibility between his two missions. For him, “climate action is a huge economic opportunity for investment in sustainable growth. Funding is key“. Everything is “take a pragmatic approach“.
A realism linked to his training, which ranges from a license in chemistry in California to a doctorate in economics from the University of Coventry in the United Kingdom, via an MBA in Los Angeles. This path has allowed him to progress rapidly in the ecosystem and to touch many activities in this State which has experienced, thanks to oil, a dazzling growth since the 1970s. But which is now seeking to diversify its economy. Today, young Minister of Industry, Sultan Al Jaber was, among other things, patron of the port of Abu Dhabi and of the public agency responsible for media activities.
Renewable energy enthusiast
The blind “green» of his professional activity is quite extensive. He helped found Masdar, the Emirati renewable energy company he also runs today. He also made himself known with the project “Masdar Cityin 2006, an ecological and technological showcase of the sustainable city for the United Arab Emirates. He is also the country’s special envoy for the climate. In this capacity, he led his country’s delegation to COP 27 in Egypt in late 2022.
Criticized by environmental activists
His double hat and the holding of COP 28 in the Emirates raise criticism from environmental activists who denounce a conflict of interest, while the country was ranked the fourth largest polluter in the world per capita in 2019 by the World Bank. They also deplore the presence and growing influence of lobbyists from the oil and gas sector, sent by the Emirates to the COPs.
And also perceived as a realistic boss
The small state, for its part, sees no contradiction in the appointment of Sultan Ahmed al Jaber as head of COP 28. The United Arab Emirates is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, by focusing on capture technologies carbon and green energy. The choice of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber Sultan is representative of the Emirates’ approach to climate action, say observers.
The argument of the Emirates is that the world will still need fossil fuels by 2050 and that these should come from the cheapest and least polluting producers, namely the Arab countries of the Gulf. “For the Gulf countries, where oil wealth contributes significantly to the economy, much of the climate action will have to come from precisely this sector.“says Aisha Al-Sarihi, researcher at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore.