Dubai oil CEO degenerates COP28 into climate crisis charade
A jet takes flight from Sky Harbor International Airport as the sun sets over Phoenix, Arizona, July 12, 2023. The homeless are among the most likely to die from the heat in metro Phoenix. Any hopes to combat such global warming-driven events were dead on arrival at COP28, which turned out to be nothing more than a farce to promote a corporate fossil fuel agenda. | Matt York/AP

As predicted, this year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai devolved into a charade of science denial, media criticism, and fossil fuel promotion. COP28 President Al Jaber, also the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), stormed on stage Dec. 4 to tell a room full of journalists that the phasing out of oil and gas would not help in the fight against global warming. “I’m the man in charge,” he declared to several women, and proceeded to accuse those who want to phase out fossil fuels of wanting to “take the world back into caves.”

Ahead of the summit, critics highlighted the conflict of interest in having a Big Oil boss also serve as the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) environmental minister. The agenda this contradiction serves – to transform COP28 into a farce for dirty energy deals – was uncovered by whistleblowers in the days before the event, and the pretense was on full display this week. Al Jaber’s reactions and remarks undercut the very aim of the conference, which is to reduce the planet’s temperatures to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above industrial era levels.

The COP28 President talked up the supposed success of the event while leveling disdainful remarks toward reporters, adding in claims that economic development could not be maintained if we cease burning fossil fuels. He further remarked that “there is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve” the global temperature reduction. In another comment – ironic in the face of his science denial – he talked about how much the COP28 leaders “respect the science,” and said, “I am quite surprised with the constant and repeated attempts to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency and the attempts to undermine the message we keep repeating.”

A woman drinks from a public fountain tap amid extreme heat in Madrid, Spain, Aug. 9, 2023. The world is off track in its efforts to curb global warming. | Paul White/AP

The collective eye roll in response to the façade could be felt in the commentary of experts and activists, including former Vice President Al Gore. “He should not be taken seriously,” said Gore. “He’s protecting his profits and placing them in a higher priority than the survival of human civilization.” ADNOC is “abusing the public’s trust by naming the CEO of one of the largest and least responsible oil companies in the world as head of the COP.”

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres added, “The science is clear. The 1.5C (2.7F) limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce, not abate; phase out, with a clear timeframe. This is an ambitious goal, but it is possible. To make it a reality, we need all hands on deck, collaborating and cooperating in a way that has not been done before. We cannot save a burning planet with a fire hose of fossil fuels.”

Company line excused

Al Jaber justified his company line at the summit by saying, “The world will continue to need energy sources. The UAE are the only ones in the world today that have been decarbonizing the oil and gas resources. We have the lowest carbon intensity.”

According to Dr. Friederike Otto, however, of Imperial College London, that claim is a mischaracterization, as Al Jaber was referring only to the emissions from the energy used to extract fossil fuels, not the much larger emissions that come from burning them. “There is no such thing as ‘low carbon’ or ‘lower carbon’ oil and gas,” Otto stated. “Keeping the Paris agreement targets alive will require a full fossil fuel phase-out, not a vague phase-down relying on unproven technologies. A failure to phase out fossil fuels at COP28 will put several millions more vulnerable people in the firing line of climate change. This would be a terrible legacy for COP28.”

Climate Action Network’s Harjeet Singh remarked, “COP28 must deliver a decision on phasing out fossil fuels in a just and equitable manner, without any loopholes or escape routes for the industry to continue expanding and exacerbating the climate crisis.”

Henry Zeller drinks water to stay hydrated from the extreme heat in Los Angeles on Sunday, July 16, 2023. The European climate agency calculates that November, for the sixth month in a row, the globe set a monthly record for heat, adding the hottest autumn to the broken records of record-breaking heat this year. | Richard Vogel/AP

“Sultan Al Jaber claims his inside knowledge of the fossil fuel industry qualifies him to lead a crucial climate summit,” said Ann Harrison, climate advisor for Amnesty International. “But it looks ever more like a fox is guarding the hen house. The appointment of the chief executive of one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies to lead COP28 was always a brazen conflict of interests. It is not possible for him to be an honest broker at a summit where the rapid and equitable phasing out of fossil fuels to avert further trashing of the climate and a just transition to renewable energy must be the priority. The stakes are huge, with our world heating at an unprecedented rate, many are already suffering, and the rights of billions of people are at stake.”

The unfortunate tone struck at the summit also calls into question the approach of the Biden administration in its fight against global warming – particularly since John Kerry, the admin’s climate emissary, has courted Al Jaber as an ally. Kerry went so far as to call Jaber’s role in the COP28 talks “an experiment,” while simultaneously declaring the oil CEO a “terrific choice” for leadership of the conference in an interview with the Associated Press.

“John Kerry looks for areas of consensus and areas where the U.S. can push countries that primarily still rely on fossil fuels,” said Anne Christianson, director of international climate policy at the Center for American Progress. “However, I think the cover that was allowed for the UAE really hurt us. ‘Hurt us’ meaning ‘the world.’”

Some fear that the critical role the U.S. has to play in reversing the climate crisis will be diminished by its bedfellowship with UAE’s oil boss, and by the outcome of a climate conference that was poisoned from its very inception. Many world leaders seem to have read the writing on the wall, and responded accordingly.

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said, “The planet is tired of climate agreements that were not fulfilled. And I’ve had enough of eloquent and empty speeches.” Lula is leading a life and death battle to reverse decades of damage done to his country’s Amazon rainforest.

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Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the People's World home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and their cats. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he reviews music, creates artwork, and is working on several books and digital comics.