The United Arab Emirates’ presidency of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) is marred by confusion and disarray, amid growing international criticism, according to The Guardian.
The newspaper stated that negative shadows loom over COP28, scheduled in Dubai later this year, as the conference’s presidency is entrusted to Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc, which plans significant expansion in energy production.
A diplomat from an advanced nation commented on Al Jaber’s presidency, saying, “It couldn’t be much worse.” Another remarked, “You couldn’t make this stuff up.”
According to the newspaper, Al Jaber’s appointment in January last year was met with scepticism and alarm by climate activists and experts worldwide.
Frederic Otto, a prominent climate lecturer at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, stated, “If you were asked how to make COP28 a success, you wouldn’t put a fossil fuel CEO in charge of organizing it.”
The Guardian highlighted that Al Jaber has continued to stir controversy since his appointment. He extended an invitation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend the summit, drawing outrage from human rights activists.
Furthermore, he appointed David Canzini, a former operator at Downing Street who advised Boris Johnson on renewable energy plans, causing enthusiasm among fossil fuel lobbyists.
The newspaper also emphasized internal turmoil within the COP presidency, as contracts with at least three public relations firms working on aspects of the summit were terminated, and two senior officials recently departed.
Most damagingly, Al Jaber faced scathing criticism from former United Nations climate coordinator Christiana Figueres, one of the architects of the Paris Agreement. In her podcast, “Anger and Optimism,” she accused him of jeopardizing COP28 by championing his favorite technology, carbon capture and storage, as a way to enable continued fossil fuel use.
International observers widely agree that the UAE has experienced a significant failure in its early attempts to lead climate negotiations as it prepares to host COP28 at the end of this year.
In this context, dozens of European and American lawmakers have called for the dismissal of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the climate envoy and CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), from his position as president of COP28.
The American news site The Monitor reported that it is unlikely that the UAE will respond to these demands, which were issued by more than 130 members of the US Congress and the European Parliament.
These lawmakers called for Al Jaber’s resignation as conference president due to his position as CEO of one of the world’s largest oil companies and his chairmanship of the board of Masdar, a UAE company specializing in renewable energy and green hydrogen.
In a joint letter addressed to the United Nations, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and US President Joe Biden, politicians, mostly from progressive parties, warned that fossil fuel companies exert an “undue influence” on climate negotiations.
The signatories argued that Al Jaber’s appointment as COP president while leading a company that recently announced plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, risks undermining climate change talks.
Lawmakers also called on the United Nations to take new measures to limit the influence of companies on future climate conferences, particularly those from the fossil fuel industry.
Among the signatories of the letter were US Senator Bernie Sanders and members of the Green Party in the European Parliament.
However, Sanam Vakil, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, ruled out the UAE responding to opposition to Al Jaber’s presidency.
The United Arab Emirates seeks to diversify its economy while leading the responsibility for climate change in COP28. Therefore, according to Sanam, the UAE sees no hypocrisy in choosing Al Jaber as the conference president; instead, his role is seen as important for communication and creating support for energy companies.
In this context, Tom Evans, a policy advisor at the E3G program for climate diplomacy and political geography, stated that the demand for Al Jaber’s dismissal shows that the UAE “has not built enough trust to lead the negotiations fairly, with a high spirit for climate outcomes and free from the inherent bias in its local fossil fuel-driven economy.”
However, Evans ruled out the possibility of the UAE changing the conference president before climate talks, stating that Abu Dhabi will need to “change its approach to the Conference of Parties.”
He explained, “To build trust in its presidency and the integrity of the negotiations, it will be of utmost importance for the UAE to demonstrate genuine climate leadership in its diplomacy.”
This leadership includes launching a “global campaign for a gradual phase-out of fossil fuels and expanding the scope of renewable energy, mobilizing new financing for energy transitions in developing economies from the UAE’s immense sovereign wealth, and leading new financing for vulnerable countries affected by climate disasters, such as imposing taxes on fossil fuels,” according to Evans.
He pointed out that these practical measures are how the UAE can credibly respond to its critics while pushing countries to achieve high-ambition outcomes in COP28.
This is not the first time Western politicians have protested against Al Jaber’s appointment as the president of COP28. Shortly after his appointment in January, 27 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, former Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the UAE to withdraw its choice.