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UAE appoints oil company boss as chair of COP28 climate conference, alarming climate groups

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The United Arab Emirates has appointed the head of one of the world’s biggest oil producers to chair the UN’s COP28 climate summit, in a move that activists have warned could jeopardize this year’s global conference.

Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, will oversee COP28, which takes place from November 30 in Dubai. Political leaders and representatives from more than 190 countries will gather to discuss how to put the world on track to fulfill the ambition of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In announcing Al Jaber’s appointment, the UAE lauded his climate credentials, including his position as the country’s envoy on climate change and founding role in renewable energy company Masdar.

“The UAE is approaching COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition,” Al Jaber said in a statement.

The UAE, a major oil producer, has pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050, meaning it would remove at least as much planet-warming pollution from the atmosphere as it emits.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the appointment.

“I am confident that Dr. Sultan has both the position and the ability to provide innovative leadership for COP28,” he said in a statement.

Climate activists said the appointment of Al Jaber, pictured on November 12, 2018, as president of COP28 is a

The nomination caused a backlash among some climate groups, given the role fossil fuels play in driving climate change.

Climate organizations have said that Al Jaber’s appointment would jeopardize the possibility of achieving ambitious climate pledges and some have called for Al Jaber to leave his job in the oil industry to take up the role.

The appointment raises questions about the credibility of the UAE’s COP28 presidency, said Tom Evans, policy adviser at European think tank on climate change E3G. “At face value, the head of a national oil company obviously faces a huge conflict of interest,” he told CNN.

Tasneem Essop, Executive Director of Climate Action Network International said in a statement: “[Al Jaber] cannot preside over a process charged with tackling the climate crisis with such a conflict of interests, leading an industry that is responsible for the crisis itself”.

She added: “If he doesn’t step down as CEO [of Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation]will be tantamount to a full-scale capture of the UN climate talks by a national petrostate oil company and its associated fossil fuel lobbyists.”

Last year’s COP27 ended with countries affirming a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but a proposal to phase out fossil fuels was blocked by countries including China and Saudi Arabia. Climate activists accused the fossil fuel industry of wielding outsized influence at the summit, which was attended by more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists.

“For summit hosts to be taken seriously as honest brokers for change, they need to go above and beyond to avoid a conflict of interest,” UK-based humanitarian group ActionAid said in a statement. “This is vital to the safety and security of our planet. Unfortunately, COP28 seems to have got off to a bad start in this respect.”

However, others said that Al Jaber’s appointment comes as no surprise as he has been at the forefront of championing renewable energy in the region.

“He was CEO of Abu Dhabi’s clean energy vehicle, is still chairman of Masdar and recently took a stake in the renewable energy and hydrogen business,” said Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy, an energy consultancy based in Dubai, to CNN’s Becky Anderson. “So what we’re looking at here is a well-thought-out, long-term strategy and energy diversity that emphasizes climate compatibility.”

Al Jaber, who is the first CEO to hold the chair of the COP as per the UAE declaration, said, “[COP28] It will be a critical moment to mobilize the political will to respond to what the science tells us will need to be achieved to stay on target and limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050.”