More than 100 US lawmakers and members of the European parliament have called for removal of the head of the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned oil company Adnoc as the president-designate of the UN COP28 climate summit this year.
The UAE, as the host country for COP28, earlier this year appointed Sultan al-Jaber to lead the climate summit to be held in Dubai from the end of November.
In a joint letter addressed to UN officials, and US and European leaders including US President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the lawmakers call for the UAE to withdraw Jaber’s appointment as his position as an oil executive risked “undermining the negotiations”.
The group, comprised mainly of Democratic members of the US Congress and left-leaning members of the European parliament, expressed “profound concern” that the UN rules allowed private sector polluters to exert “undue influence” over the process of the climate summit.
Last year’s COP summit hosted by Egypt ended in disappointment for climate activists as well as many developed and developing nations.
Countries including Saudi Arabia and Russia blocked an effort by a broad coalition of more than 80 countries, including the US and EU, to include a reference to phasing down all fossil fuels in final agreement by almost 200 countries.
“It did not escape our attention that at least 636 lobbyists from the oil and gas industries registered to attend last year’s COP — an increase of more than 25 per cent over the previous year,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
“When the number of attendees representing polluting corporate actors, which have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo, is larger than the delegations of nearly every country in attendance, it is easy to see how their presence could obstruct climate action.”
In his defence, COP28 said that Jaber had a 20-year career “in the renewable energy space”, citing his role as chair of Masdar, the state-owned renewable energy company.
As Adnoc chief executive, Jaber had been given a clear mandate to “transform, decarbonise and future proof” the company, it said. He had also been involved in climate diplomacy for more than a decade, attending 11 COPs, including the Paris summit, where he led the UAE’s role.
But under Jaber, the Adnoc board also last year accelerated its oil production by bringing forward its capacity expansion to 2027 from 2030, and signed off on $150bn in capital spending over five years to 2027. Adnoc’s capital spending earmarked for “low carbon solutions” stood at $15bn for the years to 2030, by comparison.
The UN climate summit host country has come under growing scrutiny over the agenda and participants. This week, human rights groups criticised the UAE’s decision to invite Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to COP28, with Amnesty International describing it as a “sick joke”.
US climate envoy John Kerry has previously defended the UAE against “unfair” criticism in its role as COP28 organiser, saying it was important to bring oil-producing nations into the UN climate negotiations.
On Tuesday in London, Kerry told a UK parliamentary committee on defence that he was optimistic about the potential of the UN talks to secure meaningful diplomatic agreement.
The US hoped negotiators could “go further than we’ve gone previously in pinning down the level of ambition that we need for mitigation” at COP28, he said.