Credibility can only be restored with the resignation of COP president Al Jaber
Today is Energy Day at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP28) and according to one grim senior executive at Chevron, “we will be hammered.”
It follows a weekend war of words over the future of oil and gas use at the world’s most important climate event of the year. It all started last year with a highly controversial decision to appoint the CEO of one of the world’s largest oil companies as president of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
For the first days of the conference, all seemed to be going very well for Al Jaber. He kicked off the conference with a parade of CEOs and world leaders who announced a blitz of funding and policy announcements on everything from capping methane gas to funding impact funds to aiding loss and damage climate adaptation efforts by developing nations.
The climate-denying COP president
But Al Jaber’s aggressive efforts to demonstrate the brilliance of having an oil executive run a climate conference fell apart over the weekend with new revelations that, contrary to what he has previously said, there was, in fact, “no science” behind demands to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. That directly contradicted his titular boss, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who last week told delegates, “The science is clear: The 1.5 C limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels with a clear time frame.”
Ragin’ Al Gore strikes again
Former U.S. vice president and Nobel Prize-winning climate activist Al Gore pounced. Al Jaber’s role is a “blatant“ conflict of interest, and goes to the heart of whether or not the world is going to have the ability to make intelligent decisions about humanity’s future.”
What were you guys thinking when you let Al Jaber get on a Zoom with outspoken climate activists?
It also went to the heart of the catastrophic decision to have an oil executive run a climate conference. “Who would have thought the UN climate talks — entirely intended to phase out fossil fuels — would become the venue of choice to meet oil ministers, Big Oil CEOs, and presidents of petrostates, all there for everything except phasing out oil & gas,” clean-energy entrepreneur and author Assaad Razzouk tweeted.
Mary Robinson takes Al Jaber to the woodshed
The developments, however, should surprise no one. The only surprise is that Al Jaber agreed to talk to the women’s activist group She Changes Climate. At a pre-COP Zoom event a few weeks ago and just published online over the weekend, Al Jaber was rolled by former Irish President and human rights champion Mary Robinson, a veteran politician and fierce climate champion. Despite spending millions of dollars on public relations advice and media training from Edelman, the world’s largest PR agency, the wily Robinson snookered Al Jaber to speak fossil fuel truth when he trashed climate science. Note to CEO Richard Edelman and COP spokesperson Alan Vander Mollen: What were you guys thinking when you let Al Jaber get on a Zoom with outspoken climate activists?
With the PR storm raging, it required the “SG” to go off script and offer a “quick word about the announcement from several members of the oil and gas industry.” The Secretary-General said, “The fossil fuel industry – the giant behind the climate crisis — is finally starting to wake up. But the promises made clearly fall short of what is required. The science is clear: we need to phase out fossil fuels within a time frame compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius.” The industry’s response to date, he said, “provided no clarity on the pathway to reaching net zero by 2050, which is absolutely essential to ensure integrity.”
Al Jaber points fingers at everyone but himself
A much aggrieved Al Jaber responded with a rare, combative and brief press conference Monday that was long on finger-pointing and short on details on the future use of fossil fuels. Sitting before assembled journalists, he sounded more like the CEO of ADNOC than the COP28 president, lavishing praise on his oil and gas colleagues. “I am grateful and appreciative for the oil and gas and all heavy industries, for taking such a bold and giant step to come around the table.”
That’s got to be very big table. The Associated Press analyzed registrants for this year’s climate talks and found at least 1,300 representatives of fossil fuel interests. That’s more than three times the number the AP found in an analysis of last year’s talks.
When not playing the victim, Al Jaber’s press conference was a precise articulation of his fossil fuel-focused conference strategy to ensure all went according to fossil fuel plans.
When not playing the victim, Al Jaber’s press conference was a precise articulation of his fossil fuel-focused conference strategy to ensure all went according to fossil fuel plans. The “early wins” were little more than big distractions to deflect attention from Al Jaber’s goal to get through the conference without delegates making any specific commitments or plans to phase out the vast majority of fossil fuel use by 2050.
He could have ended the controversy at his press conference. Instead, he made matters worse by refusing to answer a question from the Associated Press to “specifically comment” on the period and schedule of an oil phase-out. He made another flagrantly false statement that his position and those of the Secretary-General were “no different.”
The good news is that the fault lines are now public just as Energy Day gets underway and negotiators begin crucial negotiations on putting together a periodic conference report called the “global stocktake.”
The stakes cannot be higher. If the fossil fuel industry prevails, and phase-out is not included, it will commence with an unprecedented surge of oil and gas production. The chances of bending the curve on global warming will become all but impossible.
Al Jaber must resign
But as long as Al Jaber is President of COP, this will not happen. There is only one way to snatch victory from defeat. COP28 needs a credible conclusion. And that can only happen if Al Jaber steps down.
Featured photo: Mary Robinson