The UAE chooses an oil exec to lead COP28, and it’s causing some drama

COP28 is being hosted by Dubai this year.

The UAE chooses an oil exec to lead COP28, and it’s causing some drama
United Arab Emirates' Industry Minister Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 31, 2022. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

The backstory: Every year, the UN holds a conference on climate change, which is known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP. Last year's COP27 in November was pretty heavily criticized for being hosted by Egypt. Some delegates and campaigners said the conference's ambitions were watered down by fossil fuel producers who got sympathy from Egypt, which exports natural gas and often receives Gulf funds. Some even called it a "glorified fossil fuel trade show." In fact, more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists were there. But Egypt's president denied the accusations.

More recently: COP28 is being hosted by Dubai this year. Choosing the UAE to host the climate conference was pretty controversial since the country is one of the world's biggest oil and gas producers.

The development: On Thursday, the UAE named its pick to lead the climate talks – Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber. This announcement is throwing the world for a loop because, well, Jaber is the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. To be fair, Jaber has also worked on sustainability projects, like a carbon-neutral city that was never fully realized. He also serves as the chairman of Masdar, a clean energy company he helped create. But a lot of people still see an oil chief heading a climate conference as a pretty big conflict of interest.

Key comments:

"You wouldn't invite arms dealers to lead peace talks. So why let oil executives lead climate talks?" said Alice Harrison of Global Witness.

"Sultan Al Jaber has the credentials and background to lean into trends that are already ongoing," explained Ryan Bohl, a Mideast analyst for risk-intelligence firm the RANE Network. "Him being an oilman, I don't think that will be that big of a risk for him."

"We will take an inclusive approach that engages all stakeholders," Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber said about COP28.

"It is imperative for the world to be reassured that he will step down from his role as the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company," said Tasneem Essop from Climate Action International. "He cannot preside over a process that is tasked to address the climate crisis with such a conflict of interest, heading an industry that is responsible for the crisis itself."