COP28 Oil Lobby: The COP28 President is a UAE fossil CEO. Is this the biggest con ever perpetuated by the oil industry?
In the winter of 2023, COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, will be held in Dubai, UAE. Dubai, one of the wealthiest nations on earth, gained its riches and place on the world’s stage from selling oil. To any reasonable person looking at this situation, it seems like a conflict of interest to have an oil nation host COP.
Unless that is, the UAE truly wants to be a part of the solution. The UNFCCC gave them the benefit of the doubt, so it came to pass.
To me, the fact that fossil fuel lobbyists outnumbered any nation’s delegation at COP26 was, and is an outrage. The silver lining in this abhorrent display of corporate privilege is that it led to the UN rule requiring lobbyists to identify themselves as such ahead of COP events. It would appear that maybe the UN is taking steps to ensure groups with a vested interest in increasing oil production don’t lead the agenda.
After all, we don’t allow tobacco company executives to lead World Health Organization policy, do we?
The COP28 Oil Lobby – a Fox in the Hen House
Many still don’t realize that the day job of COP28 conference president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is CEO of UAE state oil firm ADNOC.
I don’t know about you, but it sure seems like a conflict of interest to me. Upon the announcement of Al Jaber to this role, calls for his replacement were heard far and wide. At the minimum, it was said he should step down from his role at ADNOC. However, we were assured Sultan Al Jaber can run an impartial COP28 in Dubai, despite his main job.
ADNOC is, ironically, one of the few oil companies in the world to continue to make substantial investments to increase oil production amid growing global pressure to reduce production.
His appointment to such an important role, and the fact that COP28 is in the UAE at all, has always seemed suspect to me since it was announced in November 2021. Now the reality of the decision has come home to roost in the form of a fox in the henhouse.
Today, only four months away from the start of the conference, we find out that Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber and his team lied to the UN (and the rest of the world) about the privacy of UN COP communications. Not only is he biased, but he was transferring sensitive UN information to Adnoc’s PR team, ostensibly asking for guidance on how to reply to inquiries. Worse yet, his office has been caught in outright lies about how they protect UN privacy. Al Jaber’s COP28 office in the UAE shares email servers with ADNOC, despite having stated publicly the exact opposite. The UAE’s state oil company has had access to UN COP communications and has corrupted the conference. Regardless of what they have done with the information, they have an agenda contrary to the goals of reducing emissions.
The intersection of oil and gas companies with climate change action has sparked a contentious debate, and this only adds fuel to an already raging fire. While some argue that fossil fuel companies can play a role in addressing the climate crisis, others express concerns about their influence and the potential for (not so) hidden agendas. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is simply an oil industry lobbyist that has not announced his intention.
Oil Companies and the COP28 Oil Lobby
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber’s proposition that oil and gas companies can contribute to resolving the climate crisis gained traction among key decision-makers involved in the upcoming climate talks. Notably, Asian countries facing unique challenges in transitioning to clean energy appear to align with the UAE narrative that economic interests and energy security must be considered in climate discussions. Al Jaber’s climate action plan, which outlines specific goals, has been generally well-received by governments and civil society.
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber’s COP28 Vision letter from July 13, 2023, is well written and provides some interesting perspective for what he believes his role is at COP28. Phase down of fossils instead of phase out is telling as it misses the point of transitioning to a new, non-fossil fuel based economy. We don’t need to reduce fossil fuel dependence, we need to eliminate it. This speaks volumes in that it is the role of the COP president to ensure we don’t miss the opportunity to save our planet from climate heating devastation. Al Jaber seems to have missed that point completely.
The issue of potential influence-peddling by the COP28 oil lobby remains a source of skepticism regarding the effectiveness of the COP. In a time when the effects of climate change are killing more people and causing increased destruction every day, allowing such influence will hinder the drive for an ambitious climate agenda. Furthermore, there have been overstated claims that have misled the public, as demonstrated by a recently banned commercial by Australia’s fossil fuel lobby. These factors raise valid concerns about how much oil and gas companies should be involved in shaping climate policies, if at all.
While acknowledging the concerns surrounding oil and gas companies’ influence, we must look closely at Al Jaber’s plan. One positive aspect is its emphasis on accelerating the deployment of renewable energy sources. This aligns with the transition efforts being contemplated by policymakers in countries like Malaysia, who are grappling with the challenge of balancing clean energy allocation with domestic energy requirements. By focusing on renewable energy, oil and gas companies can redirect their expertise and resources toward sustainable solutions.
Transparency, Accountability and Trust
To move forward, it is crucial to establish trust. Transparency and accountability measures must ensure the actions of oil and gas companies align with the broader climate agenda. Clear guidelines and stricter regulations should be in place to prevent undue influence and misinformation campaigns. Companies must also demonstrate a genuine commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, investing in renewable technologies, and transitioning to a low-carbon future.
One of the biggest problems with having oil companies at the climate talks table is the lack of trust. Should the companies that created the climate crisis be allowed to direct the conversation? These billion-dollar companies have known about the effects of climate change since the 1980s and are raking in unprecedented profits that, in some cases, have doubled since the beginning of the Ukraine war. They receive trillions in subsidies annually, yet they have no meaningful investments in green technologies. Instead, they fund PR agencies to sow doubt, buy back corporate shares and invest in more oil production.
All indications are that these companies are working against the best interests of the planet and are thus working against the interests of humanity. Should the COP28 oil lobby be allowed to have a voice at the UN climate change conference at all? Some might argue that their companies should instead be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, not celebrated, catered to, and invited to “negotiations.”
The involvement of oil and gas companies in addressing the climate crisis is rightfully a highly debated topic. Skepticism exists regarding their intentions, and the actions by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, COP28 oil lobbyist, highlight the fact that big oil and big oil states are not coming to the conference with good intentions. They are there to further their own agenda, one that is contrary to the needs of billions of people in the world.
The UNFCC should show some accountability. They should remove Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber from his role at COP28. They should revoke any representation by COP28 oil lobbyists, and they should do it immediately.
The only silver lining I can see about this situation is this: now we know. Now we can hold the UN and COP to a higher standard and get to the real work.