The Emirati president-designate of the upcoming United Nations COP 28 climate talks urged oil and gas companies Monday to be “central to the solution” to fighting climate change, a message delivered even as the industry boosts its production to enjoy rising global energy prices.
The appeal Sultan al Jaber made at a major oil and gas conference his country was hosting highlights the gap between climate activists and elected officials suspicious of his industry ties and his calls to drastically slash the world’s emissions by nearly half in seven years to limit average global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) compared with pre-industrial times, The Associated Press reports.
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“That is our North Star. It is, in fact, our only destination,” al Jaber said. “It is simply acknowledging and respecting the science.”
However, he added: “We must do this while also ensuring human prosperity by meeting the energy needs of the planet’s growing population.”
Al Jaber serves as the CEO of the state-run Abu Dhabi Oil Co. (ADNOC), which has the capacity to pump four million barrels of crude oil a day and hopes to reach five million barrels a day, with upcoming new investments pegged at US$150 billion. He spoke at the annual Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, known by the acronym as ADIPEC, which brings together the largest players in the global oil and gas industries.
While this year’s conference has been described as focusing on “decarbonizing faster together,” the event is primarily about drilling, processing, and selling the same carbon-belching fuels driving climate change, AP writes—which cause more-intense and more-frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires. Al Jaber himself has repeatedly said the world must rely on oil and gas for the near-term to bridge that gap.
“A phase-down of fossil fuels is inevitable. In fact, it’s essential,” al Jaber said. “Yet, this must be part of a comprehensive energy transition plan that is fair, that is fast, just, orderly, equitable, and responsible.”
But on the business side, the oil industry is on the rebound. After prices briefly went negative during the lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic, benchmark Brent crude oil now trades around $92 a barrel.
Diesel prices also are expected to rise as Russia has stopped its exports of the fuel, which likely will worsen global inflation by boosting freight transportation prices that will get passed onto consumers.
Gazprom, the state-owned natural gas company that is a pillar of Russia’s economy, had a major stand at the conference exhibition despite facing U.S. sanctions over Moscow’s war on Ukraine. Russian officials took part in Abu Dhabi’s major arms fair earlier this year, showing the UAE’s deepening financial links to Moscow despite its long ties to the American military and hosting thousands of U.S. troops.
The conference highlights the challenge the United Arab Emirates has faced in trying to convince already-critical climate scientists, activists, and others that it can host the U.N. Conference of the Parties—where the COP gets its name.
Though all smiles at Monday’s conference, al Jaber has acknowledged the withering criticism he’s faced. On Saturday, he offered a full-throated defence of his country hosting the talks he’s slated to lead, dismissing critics who “just go on the attack without knowing anything, without knowing who we are.”
“For too long, this industry has been viewed as part of the problem, that it’s not doing enough and in some cases even blocking progress,” al Jaber told his industry audience. “This is your opportunity to show the world that, in fact, you are central to the solution.”
Following immediately after al Jaber, Haitham al-Ghais, secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil cartel, praised his speech and defended the industry.
“We see calls to stop investing in oil. We believe this is counterproductive,” al-Ghais said. “The cornerstone of global economic prosperity today is energy security.”
Al Jaber said 20 oil and gas companies had pledged to bring their operations to “net zero” by or before 2050 and eliminate routine gas flaring by 2030. However, the industry would still be producing the oil and gas that release the carbon dioxide that traps heat in the atmosphere. Their 2050 promise depends on as-yet unproven and poorly-performing carbon capture and storage technologies that governments are being asked to lavishly subsidize, and would arrive years or decades late to contribute to the urgent goal of reducing global emissions 45% by 2030.
Al Jaber, a 50-year-old longtime climate envoy, has been behind tens of billions of dollars spent or pledged toward renewable energy by this federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Al Jaber and his supporters—including U.S. climate envoy and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who is on a trip to the UAE this week—say that’s a sign he can lead the COP28 talks.
This Associated Press story was first published by The Canadian Press on October 2, 2023.