The Cop28 conference taking place in the UAE later this year is a vital event in the ongoing struggle to limit climate change and a critical staging-post in the journey to a profound but realistic transition to renewable energy sources in order to cap temperature rises. However, emissions are only one part of the complex web of issues impacting our environment, from the loss of arable land to heightened threats to nature.
As such, the intervention of a group of climate and environmental groups, who have written to the UN in protest at the choice of Dr Sultan Al Jaber as President-designate of Cop28, is both unhelpful and wrong-headed. Their complaint is that Dr Al Jaber is also managing director and group chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and that this position somehow makes him unsuitable for his Cop28 role.
Alas, what it in fact reveals is the unrealistic mindset that plagues the conversation around climate change. This is not some Manichean battle between good and evil, with the fossil fuel industry presumably cast as the latter. By fixating on one individual, the complainants are ignoring the complexities and nuances that bedevil the issue. Rather than undermining the “legitimacy and efficacy” of Cop28, as they allege, the choice of Dr Al Jaber is a sign of the seriousness with which the UAE is taking the responsibility of hosting the event, and an acknowledgement of the gravity of the climate situation and the need for achievable solutions. This has already been demonstrated by the great strides taken by the Emirates in the field of renewable energy and other far-reaching environmental measures - the UAE’s impending ban on single-use plastics, for example.
Dr Al Jaber himself has been in the vanguard of these efforts. As well as his other positions, he is the UAE’s special envoy for climate change and chairman of Masdar, the country’s renewable energy company. He demonstrated his credentials in the field as far back as 2009, when he led the UAE’s successful bid to host the International Renewable Energy Agency.
The fact is that all stakeholders must be involved in this process in order to form the consensus necessary to bring about actual change. The myopic approach favoured by the signatories to this letter will serve only to create a divisive narrative that threatens to frustrate the search for common ground. No-one can afford to have a near-term energy crisis and a mid-term under-funded energy transition.
It is time to move beyond a narrow-minded and divisive approach to this global problem, and instead focus on finding pragmatic, realistic solutions that will make a real difference.