UAE oil exec and leader of COP28 climate summit tells U.N., energy industry to ‘get after gigatons’ of emissions

The president-designate of this fall’s annual major global climate-change conference, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, himself an executive in an oil industry responsible historically for the bulk of Earth-warming emissions, told global leaders “we are not powerless” when it comes to holding greenhouse gases in check.

Al Jaber on Wednesday addressed the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit in New York, where he urged the world to “get after gigatons” of emissions curbs and “to think beyond borders, beyond politics and beyond our own lifetimes.”

This week’s summit, the climate-focused engagement during the U.N.’s General Assembly and convened by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, was attended by world leaders, the private sector and civil society.

Missing from the list of 34 speakers representing countries at Guterres’ U.N. summit were leaders of world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters China, the U.S., India and the United Arab Emirates, the last home to Al Jaber and the host of the U.N.’s climate-specific annual meeting, known as the Conference of Parties, or COP28, beginning Nov. 30 and running for two weeks into December.

These nations weren’t allowed to speak this week because, U.N. organizers said, they had no new actions to announce.

The summit did feature speeches from leaders who Guterres says are responding to his call to “accelerate” global climate action, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union and Pakistan.

Related: Climate change leaves us at ‘gates of hell,’ says U.N.’s Guterres at event that pushes aside mega-polluters U.S., China

But Al Jaber, a state-run oil company executive, could take the microphone in New York for his own early push ahead of COP28.

In the remarks Wednesday, he emphasized that “climate change is our common enemy, and we must unite to fight it.”

“We know the size of the problem. The numbers are straightforward: 22 gigatons. That’s the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we need to cut in the next seven years to keep 1.5 [degrees Celsius climate target] within reach.”

Notably, his designation to lead the COP28 has raised concerns from environmental policy groups about whether leaders from the oil

and gas

industry should have such a high-profile role in what each year is arguably the globe’s pivotal climate-change gathering. COP27 was held in Egypt.

“This appointment goes beyond putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” said Teresa Anderson, global lead on climate justice at ActionAid, a development nonprofit, earlier this year.

COP28 is expected to convene over 70,000 participants, including heads of state, government officials, international industry leaders, private-sector representatives, academics, experts, youth and non-state actors.

It is, in fact, the energy industry’s scale and pressure to adapt that make its leadership in the energy transition vital, Al Jaber has said.

Al Jaber wants the world to make actionable commitments across key pillars: fast tracking a just and orderly energy transition; fixing climate finance, focusing
on lives and livelihoods; and underpinning all these efforts with full inclusivity of the developing world whose resources are in high demand and yet who often face the worst weather extremes that climate change ignites.

Fossil-fuel industries often tout their own efforts to make existing sources like oil and gas as energy-efficient as technology allows, which should give these markets a role alongside growth in solar, wind, hydrogen and nuclear.
“The simplest, cheapest and fastest way to dial down emissions,” is by being more efficient with energy sources, Al Jaber said in his Wednesday remarks.

He then called for all to be “brutally honest about what it will take to transition heavy emitting sectors” such as steel, concrete and construction, which need the high heat of fossil fuels and cannot run on renewables alone. And Al Jaber said global markets need to develop “the entire hydrogen value chain.”

He reiterated his previous calls on the oil and gas industry to eliminate methane emissions by 2030, a more-potent if shorter lasting pollutant than carbon dioxide, and to align with net-zero climate pledges by or before 2050.

And, addressing the COP28 plan to fix climate finance, Al Jaber spoke of the need to
restore trust that the richest countries will deliver the $100 billion climate-mitigation pledge to poorer countries this year.

“People everywhere want the same things: clean water, clean air, economic opportunity, safety in the storm,” he said.

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