The double life of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber

Road to COP28

The double life of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber

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This week, Climate & Capital responds to a recent COP 28 update letter from Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi Oil Company (Adnoc), the UAE’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, and the President-Designate for the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28).

My Dearest Ahmed,

You don’t mind if I call you Ahmed, do you? After all, we are brothers — brothers fighting to end global warming together. So, thank you for your letter on your climate stewardship. Ahmed, we marvel at your efforts to fight to keep the planet cool while also running one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing oil companies.

How do you do it? Your boss in the COP sphere is Secretary António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General. He thinks we are all “trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat.”

But your actual boss, of course, is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE. He appointed you to both your posts. His plans to expand the Emirates’ oil and gas production are so aggressive that even your neighbor, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), thinks MBZ “stabbed us in the back.”

So we are not surprised that in your letter, you focused on almost everything but the fate of fossil fuels. After all, since at least the 1960s, says US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the fossil fuel industry has known about the dangers of climate change but has chosen not to solve the problem but instead to “spend millions of dollars to spread disinformation.”

Pumping up fossil fuels

You seem particularly well suited for that role. Let’s take your recent “listening tour” as the UN’s senior climate negotiator. While you were engaging “with people from every segment of society,” you were also busy approving a flurry of new gas deals. Why just this week, your subsidiary, Adnoc Gas, awarded $1.34 billion in contracts to expand the nation’s natural gas pipeline network.

Shouldn’t you, as COP president and steward of the UN’s climate negotiation efforts, insist that 90% of that oil remain in the ground in order to meet the net zero scenarios set out by the International Energy Agency!?

These deals are all part of your boss’ grandiose plans to expand the country’s oil and gas production to more than 7.5 billion barrels of oil. In your letter, you deftly describe these efforts as “climate-smart development.”

But here is the problem. Shouldn’t you, as COP president and steward of the UN’s climate negotiation efforts, insist that 90% of that oil remain in the ground in order to meet the net zero scenarios set out by the International Energy Agency!?

The UN envoy of fossil fuel

Of course not! If you did, you would lose your job at Adnoc. No one likes to piss off the boss. Instead, you’ll continue to write your letters, meet famous people, and make sure delegates at the COP28 conference in November do nothing to disturb the Sheikh’s plans.

A masterpiece of realpolitik

Ahmed, we have to admit the Sheikh’s efforts to manipulate the UN for his own ends are brilliant. Calling in favors from the UK, the U.S., Asia, and Europe to make you president. Gaining home-field advantage with the conference in Dubai and, best of all, repositioning the fossil fuel industry’s history as a “track record of investing in the energy transition and decarbonization” is, yes, utterly cynical, but a master class of energy realpolitik.

Strategic allies

Snickering aside, we are humbled to watch as global policymakers, energy CEOs, the Davos crowd, and even many climate activists meekly fall into line, dare they offend the Sheikh.

Ahmed, even you admit that you are no Christiana Figueres, (a primary architect of the 2015 Paris climate agreement). You were blessed by John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and EU Climate Chief Frans Timmerman because the UAE is a critical strategic ally in the Middle East.

Source: UAE Embassy

And all that lavish praise from former COP26 president Alok Sharma? You did not let it go to your head because you knew that trade, finance, and sharing intelligence are the lifeblood of the UK. And those ties have never been better. Last year trade between the two countries grew by 63%. That was more than enough for a photo op with the new climate king, Charles III.

Welcome to a new age 

Ahmed, we are both realists. We know that climate concerns have always taken a back seat to the bigger issues of war, profit, and power.

That is, until this summer. We don’t need to tell you just how bad things are getting weather-wise. Everyone we know is absolutely freaking out about this summer’s extreme weather. They thought the fires, scorching heat, droughts, and floods were the stuff of movies like Extrapolations, not their vacations!

As a reminder. Last year, the Emergency Event Database EM-DAT recorded 387 natural hazards and disasters worldwide, resulting in the loss of 30,704 lives and affecting 185 million individuals. Economic losses totaled around US $223.8 billion. Heat waves caused over 16,000 excess deaths in Europe, while droughts affected 88.9 million people in Africa. Hurricane Ian single-handedly caused damage costing US $100 billion in the Americas.

Time for Plan B

My dear Ahmed, it’s time for Plan B — for you and humanity. Before you forever tarnish your reputation and before historians and influencers start to compare you to tobacco executives, Afrikaans apartheid leaders, or defenders of Jim Crow, we urge you to rethink your entire approach to delay, distort and derail the COP28 climate process.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

We know that is not going to be easy. After all, that is why you were hired. Who needs 621 fossil fuel lobbyists when you can be the president of COP?

Climate Justice 

There is an alternative. You may remember from your American university days that more than 150 years ago, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln willingly risked his country — and ultimately his life — to stop another human evil, the enslavement of one man by another man. He was followed by Martin Luther King, who also sacrificed himself fighting injustice.

What you may not know is that before King was assassinated, he told his followers that the ultimate measure of a man “is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Ahmed, those are wise words we urge you to consider. With COP28 only months away, the extinction of the human race is now on the table. It is a table you are helping set with the Sheikh, the fossil fuel industry, and a vast global network of self-interested climate appeasers.

But for now, the focus is on you, Mr President Designate for the 28th Conference of the Parties. Before you further make a mockery of the United Nations, remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”


Written by

Peter McKillop

Peter McKillop is the founder of Climate & Capital Media, a mission-driven information platform exploring the business and finance of climate change.