Oil CEO Sultan Al Jaber is ideal person to lead COP 28

Oil CEO Sultan Al Jaber is ideal person to lead COP 28

ABU DHABI — If the world is lucky, this could be the year fossil fuel producers and climate activists bury their hatchets and join hands to reduce emissions and secure the future of our planet.

If that sounds hopelessly utopian, consider the leaders of this resource- and renewable-rich Middle Eastern monarchy. The UAE is determined to inject specificity, urgency and pragmatism into a process that has often lacked all three: the 28th meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 28, which the UAE The United Arab Emirates will host it from November 30 to December. 12.

To kick off 2023, the oil and gas and climate communities gathered this weekend for the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Forum, kicking off the annual Sustainability Week in Abu Dhabi. After decades of mutual distrust, there is a growing recognition that they cannot live without each other.

Credit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s criminal war on Ukraine, and his continued energy weaponization, for injecting a new dose of hard-nosed reality into the climate conversation. It has rarely been so clear that energy security and cleaner energy are inseparable. The guiding principle is the “energy sustainability trilemma”, defined as the need to balance energy reliability, affordability and sustainability.

What is contributing to this new pragmatism is a recognition by much of the climate community that the energy transition to renewables cannot be achieved without fossil fuels, so they must become cleaner. They have come to recognize that natural gas, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG), with half the emissions footprint of coal, provides a powerful bridge fuel.

Once derided by green activists, nuclear power is also gaining new fans – especially when it comes to small modular plants where there are fewer safety and proliferation concerns.

For their part, nearly all major oil and gas producers, who once looked down on climate activists, now embrace the reality of climate science and are investing billions of dollars in renewables and efforts to make them more clean their fossil fuels.

“Every serious hydrocarbon producer knows that the future, in a world of declining fossil fuel use, must be low-cost, low-risk and low-carbon,” said David Goldwyn, former envoy special of the Department of State for energy. “The only way to ensure we do that is to have the industry at the table.”

Nowhere is this shift among climate activists more evident than in Germany, where Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, head of the Green Party, is serving as pragmatist-in-chief.

Habeck, who serves as Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, has been the driving force behind the extension of the life of the country’s three nuclear power plants until April and the launch of Germany’s first LNG import terminal in December, with five others to follow. .

“I am ultimately responsible for the security of the German energy system,” Habeck told Financial Times reporter Guy Chazan in a comprehensive profile of the German politician. “So the buck stops with me. … I became minister to make tough decisions, not to be Germany’s most popular politician.”

Some climate activists were shocked on Thursday when the United Arab Emirates named Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), as president of this year’s COP 28.

“This meeting goes beyond putting the fox in charge of the chicken,” said Teresa Anderson of ActionAid, a development charity. “Like last year’s summit, we are increasingly seeing fossil fuel interests take control of the process and shape it to meet their needs.”

What is overlooked is that Al Jaber’s rich background in both renewables and fossil fuels makes him an ideal choice at a time when efforts to address climate change have been too slow, lacking the comprehensiveness to produce more transformative results.

Al Jaber is the CEO of the world’s 14th largest oil producer, but he was also the founding CEO of Masdar, one of the world’s largest renewables investors, where he remains chairman. It also represents a country that despite its resource wealth has become a major producer of nuclear energy, was the first Middle Eastern country to join the Paris Climate Agreement, and was the first Middle Eastern country to define a roadmap for net zero emissions by 2050.

Over the past 15 years, the UAE has invested $40 billion in renewable energy and clean technology globally. In November it signed a partnership with the United States to invest an additional $100 billion in clean energy. About 70% of the UAE’s economy is generated outside of the oil and gas sector, making it an exception among major producing countries in its diversification.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, has explained his country’s approach this way: “There will come a time, in 50 years, when we load the last barrel of oil on board the ship. The question is … Will we feel sad? If our investment today is the right one, I think, dear brothers and sisters, we will celebrate that moment.”

Al Jaber, speaking at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Forum on Saturday, captured his ambition to achieve faster and more transformative results at COP 28.

“We are a long way down the road,” Al Jaber said.

“The world is playing catch-up when it comes to the key Paris goal of keeping global temperatures to 1.5 degrees,” he said. “And the hard reality is that to achieve this goal, global emissions must fall 43% by 2030. To add to this challenge, we must reduce emissions at a time of continued economic uncertainty, heightened tensions geopolitical and growing pressure on energy. ”

He called for “transformational progress… through game-changing partnerships, solutions and outcomes.” He said the world needs to triple renewable energy production from eight terawatt hours to 23 and more than double low-carbon hydrogen production to 180 million tonnes for industrial sectors, which have the hardest carbon footprint to achieve. sat down.

“We will work with the energy industry to accelerate decarbonisation, reduce methane and expand hydrogen,” Al Jaber said. “Let’s keep our focus on curbing emissions, not progress.”

If that sounds utopian, let’s have more.

— Frederick Kempe is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlantic Council.

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