Who is Sultan Al Jaber, the oil businessman leading the biggest summit on climate change

Who is Sultan Al Jaber, the oil businessman leading the biggest summit on climate change

COP28, the major annual climate summit sponsored by the United Nations, which began on November 30 and is scheduled until December 12 in Dubai, announced a record of more than 70,000 participants.

There, the conference was chaired by Sultan Al Jaber, who was appointed in January as president of COP28, a decision criticized by environmentalists and which earned him accusations of double play, due to his capacity as president of the oil company Adnoc , which acts as The Emirates is the world’s seventh producer of black gold.

The businessman has since insisted on his willingness to join the private sector in financing, with the states, the transfer of energy and the adaptation of vulnerable countries to climate change.

The list of functions of this 50-year-old oil businessman and politician is long and, for some, contradictory: boss of the Emirati oil company, Adnoc, minister of Industry and Advanced Technologies, emissary for climate and president of the 28th Conference of the UN Climate Change.

“People who accuse me of conflict of interest don’t know my career,” he said in an interview with AFP in July. “I have dedicated most of my career to sustainable development, project management and renewable energy,” he defended.

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His experience is different from his predecessors and other oil traders, as he represented the United Arab Emirates in several climate summits and founded the national renewable energy company Masdar in 2006, whose board of directors he manages .

The company now has twice the installed renewable energy capacity in the world than the French giant TotalEnergies.

It was not until 2016 that he was appointed general director of the state oil company with the task of “decarbonizing Adnoc and preparing it for the future.” But hundreds of NGOs criticized him as a man in the fuel sector and asked him to resign from Adnoc or the COP28.

The necessary reforms at the climate summit “were compromised by the presence of an oil company leader at the helm,” wrote a hundred American and European parliamentarians in May. But it is also a virtue, pointed out a European negotiator, given that the consensus must reach almost 200 countries, including the oil kingdoms of the Gulf.

But his profile as an oil businessman attracted more media attention than his predecessors.

“My whole life is organized around key performance indicators, that’s how I manage my companies,” he insists. “Pragmatic” and “realistic”, its function is to “deliver” “real” results to “keep the goal of 1.5ºC (of global warming) within reach.”

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discursive turn

In nine months he managed to seduce a part of the skeptics. “He’s very direct, listen,” said Harjeet Singh, a veteran of these summits who speaks for the Climate Action Network, a network of 1,900 organizations. The two men meet and their teams talk monthly. During this time, Singh saw an improvement in Al Jaber’s speech.

The first change occurred in June in the German city of Bonn, when the Emirati said that the decline of fossil energy was “inevitable.” This is a semantic turn that the microcosm surrounding the COPs is unexpected from a Gulf official.

Then, in a “letter to the parties” in July, he detailed his position on fossil fuels, renewable energy, financing…, ending the criticism of those who accused him of hiding his cards.

The Al Jaber method

“Listen to all the parties, listen also to civil society, and what is new is the place of young people in the decision-making process,” trusted the Senegalese Madeleine Diouf Sarr, president of the group of Least Advanced Countries which is made up of 46 countries. China, Europe, Brazil… In nine months, Sultan al Jaber has traveled to more than 25 countries, his team told AFP.

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It is not discussed between States. “The president is there,” Steven Guilbeault, Canadian Environment Minister who is working with the Emirati official in preparation for the COP, told AFP.

His predecessor at COP21, Laurent Fabius, spoke of a “man who works, who knows the cases very well.”

But Dr. Sultan, to call him in his group, has the strength and skills to achieve the adoption of a more ambitious text acceptable to 198 parties?

“It is less voluntary than the British at COP26,” complained the European negotiator, who considered that the Emirati president was “late” in the negotiation of the final text.

Al Jaber timely reminded that he will not decide anything, but experience shows that the presidents of these summits can be the key to catalyze the agreements.

His plan includes preparing major announcements of commitments from business alliances outside COP28, for example, to reduce methane emissions.