The personnel is controversial: At the end of the year, Sultan Ahmed al-Dschaber is to preside over the 28th UN Conference on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 28 for short). This is what their organizers, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), intended.

The 49-year-old has been criticized primarily because of his offices: Al-Dschaber is not only Minister for Industry and High Technology in the Emirates, but also Managing Director and CEO of the state-owned energy company Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

Can these offices be reconciled with the most important concern of the UN conference, climate protection?

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network International (CAN), an umbrella organization of 1,500 energy-policy NGOs, doubts that. activist on Twitter. The reason: Al-Dschaber is in a conflict of interest. As ADNOC boss and minister, he leads an industry that is itself responsible for the crisis.

In fact, the oil company ADNOC, which he manages, plays a significant role in global energy production. According to a study by the US Climate Accountability Institute published in 2020, the group is the twelfth largest oil company in the world in terms of production. At the same time, according to the institute, it is one of the 20 largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

But there are also other voices that describe al-Dschaber as a committed politician and entrepreneur in the promotion of renewable energies. In fact, he has served as the UAE’s special envoy on climate change for years. In this capacity he has taken part in the last ten UN climate change rounds, the so-called Conferences of Parties (COP). In 2006 he also co-founded Masdar, the Emirates’ state-owned renewable energy company. He still holds the presidency.

He also played a leading role in other initiatives to promote green energy. For example, the promise made by the Emirates in 2021 to be carbon neutral by 2050 is largely due to him. The UAE has set an ambitious deadline for this goal: They want to achieve it ten years earlier than their neighbors Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Against this background, is al-Dschaber more of an environmentalist or an oil lobbyist? Possibly both at the same time, say some experts. In choosing Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, the UAE wanted to “balance the rescue of the fossil fuel industry with concrete steps to promote more sustainable industries and practices,” says Cinzia Bianco, Gulf region expert and visiting scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), in an interview with DW.

So far, Al-Dschaber has not commented on calls for his resignation as head of ADNOC or on doubts from various NOGs about his suitability as President of COP28. For him, the further extraction of oil on the one hand and the reduction and recording of emissions and the expansion of renewable energies such as solar and wind energy on the other hand have not contradicted each other up until now. Germany, which recently signed an agreement on gas imports with the UAE, is also benefiting from this.

Before the last COP27 in Egypt in November 2022, al-Dschaber told the official Emirati daily newspaper “The National” that the current energy supply system had to be maintained as long as the world still relied on it. At the same time, he added, emissions must be reduced and investment in new energies increased.

Innovative climate protection measures such as the rapid expansion of renewable energies have the potential to ensure long-term energy security,” said al-Dschaber in the interview at the time. “But we’re not there yet.”

With statements like this, al-Dschaber not only reaped criticism but also approval. Such an approach is a “much needed policy adjustment,” says Jessica Obeid of London-based energy consultancy Azure Strategy.

“His offices represent the diverse elements that play a role in this era of energy transition,” Obeid told DW. She says: “An appropriate transition (towards green energy production, editor’s note) will have to involve all sectors, including the oil and gas industry.”

According to the expert, however, one trend is clearly recognizable: “The energy transition in the UAE is gaining momentum.”

In fact, the UAE has been trying to reduce its dependency on oil revenues for some time. “Today, more than 70 percent of our economy is generated outside of the oil and gas sector,” said Al-Sultan in his first speech since being appointed COP28 President at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi last Saturday (01/14/2023 )

There are numerous ways to continue on this path, al-Jaber said. This includes, among other things, the expansion of renewable energies and hydrogen, but also nuclear energy. However, it is always important to ensure energy security for the global economy.

For expert Cinzia Bianco, any criticism of the combination of traditional and renewable energies in the UAE would be a “sign of hypocrisy”. This is especially true given the energy deals recently signed or renewed by European countries with the Emirates as a result of the Russian attack on Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis.

Due to the overall political situation, it is currently difficult to adequately counteract the climate crisis, said Bianco. “But the UAE could be a good discussion partner that could show other, still hesitant energy-producing countries a way to invest financially or otherwise in other forms of climate protection.”

Adapted from the English by Kersten Knipp.

Author: Jennifer Holleis

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The original of this article “New UAE climate conference chief: oil lobbyist or environmentalist?” comes from Deutsche Welle.