DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates on Thursday named a veteran technocrat who both heads Abu Dhabi’s state oil company and oversees its renewable energy efforts to be president of the next United Nations climate talks in Dubai, highlighting the balancing act ahead for the crude-producing nation.
Authorities have appointed Sultan al-Jaber, a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. This company pumps some 4 million barrels of crude per day and hopes to reach 5 million. Daily.
These revenues are fueling the ambitions of this federation of seven emirates on the Arabian Peninsula – as well as the production of more heat-trapping carbon dioxide that UN negotiations hope to limit.
But al-Jaber also spearheaded a once ambitious project to create a $22 billion ‘carbon neutral’ city on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi – an effort later scaled back after the global financial crisis hit the Emirates hard. from 2008. Even today, he is chairman of Masdar, a clean energy company spun off from the project that now operates in more than 40 countries.
“Sultan al-Jaber has the credentials and the track record to build on the trends that are already underway,” said Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst based in Austin, Texas, for an intelligence firm on risks called RANE Network. “Him being a tanker, I don’t think it will be such a big risk for him.”
The Emirates’ official WAM news agency made the announcement, noting al-Jaber’s years as a climate envoy.
“This will be a critical year in a critical decade for climate action,” WAM quoted al-Jaber as saying. “The United Arab Emirates approaches COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition.”
He added: “We will bring a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach that will bring transformative progress for the climate and for low-carbon economic growth.”
His appointment, however, drew immediate criticism. Harjeet Singh, who is head of global policy strategy at Climate Action Network International, said al-Jaber holding the title of CEO of the state oil company posed “an unprecedented and alarming conflict of interest”. .
“There can be no room for polluters at a climate conference, let alone chairing a COP,” Singh said.
Each year, the country hosting the UN negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties – hence the name COP – appoints a person to chair the talks. Hosts usually choose a seasoned diplomat because talks can be incredibly difficult to steer between competing nations and their interests. The candidate’s position as “COP President” is confirmed by delegates at the start of the talks, usually without objection.
The caliber of COP chairs has varied over the years. Observers have widely seen Briton Alok Sharma so energetic and determined to achieve an ambitious result. Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Foreign Minister was criticized by some participants for the chaotic and sometimes non-transparent manner in which he chaired last year’s meeting.
In its announcement on al-Jaber, WAM said the Emirates had invested “more than $50 billion in renewable energy projects in 70 countries, with plans to invest a minimum of $50 billion over the course of the year. next decade”. It was not immediately clear where these numbers came from.
Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, has invested some $3.9 billion since 2018 in renewable energy, according to New York-based research firm Global SWF. Masdar listed some $14.3 billion in investments in a 2020 briefing. Masdar did not respond to questions about his investments on Thursday.
But at the same time, Mubadala invested $9.8 billion over the same period in oil and gas projects, Global SWF said.
The United Arab Emirates is home to a huge solar park in Dubai, as well as the Barakah nuclear power plant, which is the only source of atomic energy in the Arabian Peninsula. But it also requires vast amounts of energy to run the desalination plants that have brought green golf courses to its desert expanses, power the air conditioners cooling its cavernous shopping malls in the summer heat, and power heavy industries. such as aluminum foundries.
The UAE’s clean energy policies grew in the mid-2000s when Dubai’s property boom saw it build the world’s tallest building and huge palm-shaped archipelagos off its coast. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimated at the time that the United Arab Emirates had the largest per capita ecological footprint in the world, meaning that each of its residents used more resources on average than those living in any other country. The UAE still ranks high on similar lists.
The Masdar City project was born from this concern to be tarnished, before being stripped.
“By actually doing it and investing money, we had access to lessons learned that no one had access to,” al-Jaber told The Associated Press in 2010. “We have to learn, adjust, adapt and move forward. We cannot be rigid.
The UAE then transformed Masdar City into a campus now housing the United Nations International Renewable Energy Agency and the company itself to invest in renewable energy at home and abroad. Joe Biden, just before stepping down as US Vice President, even visited Masdar City in 2016.
Analysts believe the Emirates are trying to maximize profits before the world increasingly turns to renewables. The Emirates themselves have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 – a target that remains difficult to assess and authorities have not fully explained how they will achieve it.
The UAE “hasn’t been shy about being a major oil and gas producer and it’s likely to be very well connected to the leadership of the country,” said Alden Meyer, a longtime observer of the talks on the issue. climate within the environmental think tank E3G. “I hope (al-Jaber) has good diplomatic and negotiation skills and the ability to reach consensus and compromise.”
COP28 will be held at Expo City Dubai from November 30 to December 12.
Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Sibi Arasu in New Delhi contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.