A Betrayal of Climate Action

Unveiling the contradiction—Al Jaber's COP28 appointment undermines climate action and human rights.

Published: Jun 2, 2023  |  

Journalist and presenter of ‘India Matters’


As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of Parties 28 (COP28) draws closer, nations throughout the globe must unite to demand the withdrawal of the appointment of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as president-designate of this important conference. 

It is hypocritical and counterproductive to appoint the head of one of the world’s largest oil producers to head a major international summit where world leaders, policymakers, scientists, and activists come together to discuss and negotiate solutions to the global climate crisis. The conference aims to assess progress made by countries in meeting their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to set more ambitious targets for the future. The outcomes of COP28 will be critical in shaping global efforts to tackle climate change and reduce its impacts on people and the planet. 

What kind of message does Al Jaber’s appointment to head COP28 send to the world? 

In January, 27 U.S. lawmakers—members of the House and Senate—called on the Biden administration to pressure the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to withdraw the appointment of Al Jaber to COP28 in a strongly-worded letter to Special Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry. “The appointment of an oil company executive to head COP 28 poses a risk to the negotiation process as well as the whole conference itself,” wrote the lawmakers.

In addition to this, 43 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), condemned the UAE’s human rights record ahead of COP28, expressing concerns over the severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly that undermine civil society work and political dissent in the country.

Among their recommendations was the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained solely for the exercise of their human rights, the shuttering of all secret detention centers, ending restrictions on civic space, and upholding the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly to enable meaningful participation of civil society and indigenous peoples at COP28, and ensuring an ambitious and human rights-consistent outcome, including through, but not limited to, the adoption of a call to all states to phase out all fossil fuels and all fossil fuels subsidies to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Ironically, an Emirati oil man leads the COP28 summit, given that the UAE’s human rights record is under scrutiny and the country is a significant oil producer, contributing to the deterioration of the planet’s atmosphere. Al Jaber’s ties to Russian energy giants have also raised concerns.

He met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow in 2017 to discuss the Qatar crisis and with Energy Minister Alexander Novak in Moscow in 2019 to discuss bilateral energy cooperation. Al Jaber is the CEO of a joint venture that includes Russia’s Lukoil. Novak has been subject to U.S. sanctions since September 2022.

These ties are alarming, given Russia’s reputation as a climate change skeptic and its dependence on fossil fuels for economic growth. COP28 must be aligned with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s findings. 

Having an Emirati oil executive with ties to Russia as president-designate of the summit raises questions about the UAE’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and its ability to lead a climate summit that takes into account the urgency of the climate crisis.

The UAE’s human rights record and Al Jaber’s ties to Russian energy giants highlight the challenges of addressing climate change while balancing economic and political interests. Furthermore, Al Jaber’s appointment undermines the integrity of the summit and sends the wrong message about the need to transition away from fossil fuels to tackle the climate crisis. 

The Biden administration must work with the UAE to ensure that COP28 is a serious and productive climate summit that aligns with the IPCC’s findings and the 1.5-degree Celsius limit. The summit presents an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in tackling the climate crisis. However, this can only happen if the UAE takes concrete steps to address its human rights record, transitions away from fossil fuels, and withdraws the appointment of Al Jaber as COP28’s president-designate.

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