DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The United Arab Emirates' pick to lead the upcoming COP28 climate talks in Dubai called on the world Tuesday to “fight climate change, not each other,” directly addressing the anger activists have felt over his selection.
Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., also described the upcoming United Nations negotiations as an “unprecedented opportunity to engage the energy industry in a technological revolution.”
His speech at the World Government Summit in Dubai sought to present his nominated presidency as a bridge between oil companies and climate activists long suspicious of the industry's influence on efforts to limit carbon emissions. Whether it will, however, remains in question.
“We need a major course correction,” al-Jaber said.
However, he added: “The strategies we pursue must leave no one behind. The policies we adopt must be pro-growth and pro-climate at the same time.”
The speech renewed criticism among activists of al-Jaber's nomination to shepherd the climate talks.
African youth climate activist Eric Njuguna from Kenya termed the remarks ‘’dismissive of valid and merited concerns brought forth by climate activists." He called on the U.N. body overseeing the talks to install a conflict of interest policy that checks the influence that oil and gas firms have on the climate talks owing to their “long history of skewing and watering down important climate decisions.
Al-Jaber, a 49-year-old longtime climate envoy, is a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He's been behind tens of billions of dollars spent or pledged toward renewable energy — and also leads an oil company that pumps some 4 million barrels of crude a day and hopes to expand to 5 million daily.
That oil money fuels the ambitions of this federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula — as well as the production of more of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that the U.N. negotiations hope to limit.
Activists have equated his nomination to asking “arms dealers to lead peace talks” when authorities announced his nomination in January. However, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and France's finance minister both have backed his selection by the UAE, a key Mideast ally. The UAE also wants to be carbon neutral by 2050 — a target that remains difficult to assess and one that authorities haven’t fully explained how they’ll reach.
"There are moments in history when humanity comes together to fight a common threat. Let’s prove to ourselves that we can do it once again," al-Jaber said. “Let’s put our differences aside. Fight climate change, not each other.”
Al-Jaber's speech, which included portions he previously delivered in January, also acknowledged that “capital is critical to make the loss-and-damage fund real and operational.” That fund, agreed to at the COP27 talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, did not include a means by which to fund them. Al-Jaber's speech also didn't offer a suggestion on how to raise the money.
However, he did call for “real reform of international financial institutions and multilateral banks” to lower the lending risk and provide more private financing for “vulnerable communities.”
Al-Jaber called on the world to triple its renewable energy capacity, as well as expand nuclear power, improve battery storage and provide carbon-capture technology. He also drew applause from the largely Emirati audience by defending the OPEC-member nation hosting the climate talks.
“We in the UAE are not shying away from the energy transition,” al-Jaber said. “We are running towards it.”
Each year, the country hosting the U.N. negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name — nominates a person to chair the talks. Hosts typically pick a veteran diplomat as the talks can be difficult to steer between competing nations and their interests.
The nominee’s position as “COP president” is confirmed by delegates at the start of the talks, usually without objections. However, activists' ire over al-Jaber's selection could see a turbulent start to the negotiations.
Amnesty International on Monday reiterated a call for al-Jaber to resign as president-designate and criticized plans by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.’s drilling arm to pump more oil as it saw record profits last quarter.
“Sultan al-Jaber cannot be an honest broker for climate talks when the company he leads is planning to cause more climate damage," Amnesty's Marta Schaaf said in a statement. “It is obvious, despite Sultan al-Jaber’s denials, that his dual role is a glaring conflict of interest which will contribute to further climate disaster and unfolding human rights violations.”
COP28 will be held at Dubai’s Expo City from Nov. 30 through Dec. 12.
Associated Press writer Wanjohi Kabukuru in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.