Abu Dhabi oil boss named as president of COP28 climate summit, triggers mixed reactions

He will lead the first comprehensive assessment of Paris Agreement goals.

Winnie Li | January 18, 2023, 05:40 PM

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On Jan. 12, 2023, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the host country for the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), nominated Sultan Al Jaber, the Group CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as the president of the conference.

The summit will be held in Dubai from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 this year.

The announcement immediately received fierce objections from environmental activists and groups, with many highlighting the irony of having a contributor to global warming chairing the conference that strives to mitigate the issue.

Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London, said Al Jaber's appointment has now rendered COPs "complete jokes".

Similarly, Tracy Carty of Greenpeace International also shared that the organisation is "deeply alarmed" that an oil company CEO has been chosen to lead the global climate negotiations.

"This sets a dangerous precedent, risking the credibility of the UAE and the trust that has been placed in them by the UN on behalf of people, current and future generations.

There is no place for the fossil fuel industry in the global climate negotiations."

By now, you may be wondering: why do people care so much about COP28 and the person presiding over it?

Here's everything you need to know.

Why does COP28 matter?

Started in 1995, COP is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC, an international treaty to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere so that we can prevent a climate catastrophe.

Every year, the conference will assess the national communications and emission inventories submitted by countries before determining the progress we have made in achieving UNFCCC's goals.

From there, it may also introduce measures that will enhance the implementation of the UNFCCC.

One such introduction was the Paris Agreement, a legally-binding accord that aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C as compared to pre-industrial levels.

According to the treaty, the first global stocktake is stipulated to be held in 2023 and every five years thereafter unless otherwise decided.

Thus, all eyes are on COP28.

What is a global stocktake?

A global stocktake assesses the world's collective progress towards achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

It also aims to provide a forum for countries to come together and identify gaps or opportunities for increased actions.

Preparations for the upcoming global stocktake have already taken off, with the first technical dialogue successfully held in Germany in June 2022.


What do COP presidents do, and how are they selected?

According to COP's rules of procedure, the president plays a crucial role in the meetings, including determining the agenda, matters of priority, and delegates' speaking time.

The president would also act as a neutral broker amongst nations who often come with different, if not competing, interests.

The level of skills required to steer and navigate these difficult conversations explains why host countries would typically nominate a veteran diplomat to chair the talks.

At the start of each conference, delegates will vote, usually unanimously, to confirm the nominee's position as the president, according to Associated Press (AP).

Who is Sultan Al Jaber?

Al Jaber is the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of UAE, a role he assumed in July 2020.

According to the ministry's website, he spearheads efforts to "increase industrial competitiveness and help drive economic growth by catalysing the diversification of the UAE's economy".

At the same time, Al Jaber also serves as the Special Envoy for Climate Change for UAE, a position he held previously from 2010 to 2016 as well.

Educated in the West

According to the UAE cabinet's official website, Al Jaber holds a PhD in Business and Economics from UK's Coventry University.

He has also studied in the U.S., obtaining an MBA from California State University and a Bachelor in Chemical Engineering from the University of Southern California.

Sustainability industry veteran

In 2006, Al Jaber helped establish Masdar, a company that develops, commercialises, and deploys renewable energy technologies and solutions around the world.

After serving as the CEO for seven years, Al Jaber is now the Chairman of Masdar.

Some of the company's notable achievements under his leadership include:

  • Inaugurated the world's at the time largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, Shams 1
  • Developed one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms, the London Array
  • Constructed Masdar City, which contains one of the largest clusters of low-carbon buildings in the world

This week, Masdar is also hosting the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, which brings together international stakeholders to discuss "practical, pro-climate, pro-growth solutions for a net-zero future".

In his speech at the opening ceremony, Al Jaber took the opportunity to call for more climate actions without sugarcoating the reality:

“Despite the progress that the world is making, we need to be honest with ourselves. We are way off track. We need to go much further and much faster. We’re playing catch-up in our efforts to keep 1.5°C alive.

We need to reverse emissions while moving economies forward, enable an inclusive and just transition that leaves no one behind. That’s why we are determined to make COP28 a COP for all and a COP of action".



Al Jaber is also not a stranger to the UN.

He was invited by then UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, to serve as a member of the latter's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change as well as the High Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, according to UN Environment Programme.

In 2012, Al Jaber received the prestigious UN Champions of the Earth award for advancing clean energy technologies through Masdar.

Sounds legit, then why is his nomination controversial?

It is because Al Jaber is wearing yet another hat, the Group CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), a state-owned company that manages, produces, and preserves Abu Dhabi’s hydrocarbon resources.

In a case study published by Clean Energy Ministerial in 2022, ADNOC produced 12 per cent of the world's oil and gas, making it the world's 12th largest oil producer.

In October 2022, the ADNOC announced it would bring forward the company's 5 million barrel per day oil production capacity expansion to 2027 from a previous target of 2030 to attain gas self-sufficiency for the UAE and meet rising global energy demand.

This ambitious expansion will likely lead to a further increase in UAE's carbon emissions and dwarf efforts made in the sustainability sector.

In 2021, the country already has one of the highest per capita carbon emission rates in the world, reported CNBC.

Received endorsements from world leaders

Amidst the votes of no confidence, Al Jaber has also received support from government officials around the world.

Speaking to AP, John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said he thinks Al Jaber is "a terrific choice" exactly because the latter led ADNOC.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India's Minister of External Affairs, shares Kerry's faith in Al Jaber.

In a congratulatory tweet, Jaishankar said Al Jaber's "comprehensive experience of energy and climate change bodes well for a successful COP28".

China also said that it would "actively support the UAE in hosting COP28" and work together with Al Jaber during a press conference on Jan. 13.

Top images via Office Of The UAE Special Envoy For Climate Change's Twitter.