1st Jun 2023

Timmermans: 'don't vilify' oil exec as UN climate summit chief

  • Sultan al Jaber is the head of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned oil company and been appointed president of this year’s UN climate summit (Photo: ADSW)
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Climate advocates were outraged when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) named the head of the state oil company, Sultan Al Jaber, as head of this year's UN climate conference (COP28).

But on Monday (16 January), EU climate chief Frans Timmermans defended the decision, saying he was "really excited about the ambitions expressed and had such confidence in [Al Jaber's] ability to steer this year's climate summit in the right direction."

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Speaking at the 15th edition of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Timmermans said Jaber has the "track record" to convince other oil-producing countries and fossil fuel executives to "finally start investing in the transition towards renewable energy."

"We need them on board. I don't want them vilified. They have a lot of assets," he said. Besides heading the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Al Jaber is chairman of Masdar, the country's leading renewable energy company founded 16 years ago. He is also minister of industry and advanced technology.

Partly owned by ADNOC, Masdar wants to become the biggest renewable energy company in the world, aiming for 100 gigawatts of clean power capacity in 2030 and producing one million tonnes of green hydrogen needed for clean steel, aluminium, ammonia and certain chemicals.

The Netherlands on Friday signed a memorandum of understanding to create a supply chain between the UAE and Europe through the port of Amsterdam.

According to Simon Stiell, executive secretary of UNFCCC, the world's top official on the climate crisis, their ability to attract and create commercial opportunity gives the UAE the "expertise" needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"The only way we are going to limit global warming is by keeping those with expertise engaged," he said.

Reverse emissions

All Jaber on Monday spoke of the need to "reverse emissions" and said he "believes in the power of human progress and our leadership" to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. But, as CEO of ADNOC, he is also planning to expand oil production from 3.5 million barrels per day to five million in 2027.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network International, said the overlapping roles presented a "conflict of interest" and was "tantamount to a full-scale capture of the UN climate talks by a petro-state."

The UAE has pledged to reach net zero by 2050, but it has yet to fully explain how it plans to reach that target. And the Climate Action Tracker rates the country's climate policies as "highly insufficient."

Responding to the question of whether UAE's oil expansion is fundamentally at odds with climate goals, UAE's official climate change champion Razan Al Mubarak described it as "the elephant in the room."

But when asked how the country plans to achieve its climate targets while increasing oil production, she did not offer further details.

In a speech last year, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said that expanding oil and gas production while trying to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees is "delusional."

A UN assessment last year showed current policies would lead to 11 percent increase in emissions globally by 2030, while a reduction of 45 percent is needed according to climate agreements.

Qatar's energy minister Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi in a statement send out on Saturday said it is "very unfair" of the West to object to African countries investing in oil and gas.

Voicing a similar opinion, Egyptian foreign minister and the previous COP27 director Sameh Shoukry blamed the lack of ambition among developing nations to set high climate targets on a lack of finance and called out wealthy countries for not delivering on their promise to transfer $100bn [€92.4bn] per year to the global south.

This was partly addressed at last year's climate summit with the creation of a so-called Loss and Damage Fund to help poorer nations deal with the effects of climate change. But the details have yet to be finalised.

Al Jaber vowed this year's COP28 summit will "get it done," but on Saturday, US climate envoy John Kerry who was also in Abu Dhabi, said the US "will not accept … some imposed standard of liability."

Sounding more open to compromise, Timmermans said this year there would be "no reason for another confrontation between the north and the south."

"The emirates are part of both the global north and the global south," he said. "We're now really in a position to start building bridges."

EUobserver was in Abu Dhabi as part of an expenses-paid trip by Masdar Clean Energy

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