Oil Chief Sultan Al Jaber is an ideal person to lead COP 28

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ABU DHABI – If the world gets lucky, this may be the year fossil fuel producers and climate activists bury their hatchets and come together to reduce emissions and ensure the future of our planet.

If that sounds hopelessly Utopian, take it up with the leaders of this resource-rich, renewable-generating monarchy. The United Arab Emirates wants to bring specificity, urgency, and pragmatism to a process that has often lacked all three: the 28th conference of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 28, which the UAE hosts 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, launching Abu Dhabi’s annual Sustainability Week. After decades of mutual trust, there is a growing recognition that they cannot live without each other.

Credit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s criminal war in Ukraine, and his ongoing arsenal of energy, for injecting a new dose of hard reality into climate talks. The inevitability of energy security and cleaner energy has rarely been clearer. The guiding principle is “the energy sustainability trilemma,” defined as the need to balance energy reliability, affordability and sustainability.

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

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

For their part, almost all major oil and gas producers, who once viewed climate activists with disdain, are now accepting the reality of climate science and investing billions of dollars in renewables and efforts to make their fossil fuels cleaner.

“Every true hydrocarbon producer knows the future, in a world where fossil fuel use is declining, is going to be low cost, low risk and low carbon,” said David Goldwyn, former ambassador energy specialist at the State Department. “The only way to make sure we do this is to have business at the table.”

Nowhere is this shift among climate activists more evident than in Germany, where Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, leader of the Green Party, serves as a leading pragmatist.

Habeck, who is the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, has been the main force behind the life extension of the country’s three nuclear plants during April and in launching the first LNG import terminal in Germany in December, with up to five more 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 a minister to make difficult decisions, not to be the most popular politician in Germany.”

Some climate activists were surprised this Thursday when the UAE announced Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), as the president of this year’s COP 28.

“This role goes beyond putting the fox over the hen house,” said Teresa Anderson of ActionAid, a development charity. “Like last year’s summit, we are see more and more fossil fuel interests taking control of the process and shaping it to meet their own needs.”

What is overlooked is that Al Jaber’s rich background in both renewable energy and fossil fuels makes it a good choice at a time when efforts to tackle climate change have been far too slow, unable 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 is the chairman. It also represents a country that despite its wealth of resources has become a major producer of nuclear power, was the first country in the Middle East to join the Paris Climate Agreement and was It is the first country in the Middle East to issue a roadmap to zero emissions by 2050.

Over the past 15 years, the UAE has invested $40 billion in renewable energy and clean technology globally. In November they 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 described his country’s approach as follows: “There will be a time, 50 years from now, when we will load the last barrel of oil on board the ship The question is… are we going to be sad? If our investment today is correct, I think – dear brothers and sisters – we will rejoice then.”

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

“We are way off track,” Al Jaber said.

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

He called for “transformative progress… through partnerships, solutions and game-changing outcomes.” He said that the world needs to triple the generation of renewable energy from eight terawatt hours to 23, and more than double the production of low carbon hydrogen to 180 million tons for industrial sectors, whose carbon footprint is the most difficult to reduce.

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

If that sounds Utopian, we’ll have more of it.

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

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