Climate Advocates Could Engage More with the Energy Sector

COP28's unifying approach: Bridging climate advocacy and energy sectors for collaborative progress

Published: Oct 16, 2023  |  

Director of the Trezeno Institute

Remixed photo of Dr. Sultan Al Jaber taken by Arctic Circle

Differences in opinion over climate change solutions have long polarized individuals across the political spectrum. Central to this discourse is the role of energy. With the anticipated COP28, pegged to be the most significant United Nations climate summit to date, there’s an escalating chorus from climate advocates for the cessation of oil and gas operations.

The primary subject of this growing contention is Sultan Al Jaber, the COP28 president, designated by the summit’s future host, the UAE. Figures ranging from Greta Thunberg to Al Gore, and notable names from past British leadership to even the Pope, have questioned the decision to have a representative from one of the world’s major oil-producing countries lead such critical climate negotiations.

Yet, the direction set by COP28 has the potential to revolutionize the narrative. Al Jaber might just be the unifying force the climate conversation needs. Instead of sidelining major energy sectors – the very sectors fueling global economies and supporting everyday activities (including those of climate advocates) – Al Jaber’s strategy is to place them at the core of the dialogue.

The rationale is clear: if emissions from oil and gas are contributing to climate change, as numerous scientific findings suggest, the solution lies in partnering with these sectors.

Scrutinizing Al Jaber’s intentions only reveals an individual with an interest in not just the prosperity of a fossil-fuel reliant nation but also in diversifying its economic avenues, especially when resources are limited.

COP28 represents a groundbreaking approach. Al Jaber, being the current CEO of ADNOC (the UAE’s leading oil and gas firm) and the prior head of Masdar, the UAE’s state-backed renewable energy entity he established in 2006, doesn’t advocate for the competition between emerging renewable technologies and traditional energy sectors. Instead, he envisions a collaborative effort where all sectors uplift each other.

This introduces a novel perspective. The current narrative pits one side against the other; environmentalists challenging traditional energy stakeholders; the notion that embracing renewables compromises economic progress. Extreme stances by certain climate figures seem to widen these rifts. Such views, suggesting that any compromise with traditional energy sectors is a step backward, are not necessarily constructive.

COP28 offers a more balanced vision, emphasizing both environmental responsibility and economic growth. COP28’s ambition to triple renewable energy capabilities by 2030 aligns with the International Energy Agency’s findings that these technologies are becoming increasingly profitable. The industry, which has laid the foundation for modern advancements, has the potential to drive initiatives like carbon capture, turning challenges into shared victories.

Al Jaber’s ADNOC is channeling $150 billion into augmenting its oil and gas capacity this decade, a move criticized by many, including Thunberg and others. Although, as Al Jaber clarified in a recent interview, expanding capacity is not the same as expanding production – production will merely meet free market demand. Al Jaber also added that if global demand increases, ADNOC

promises to offer some of the most environmentally friendly oil and gas products. Remarkably, the firm was the inaugural national oil entity to transition to 100% green electricity. They are also aiming to mitigate almost half of their carbon footprint from primary operations by the next decade. The UAE is planning to invest $300 billion in renewable projects globally, a venture that underscores this commitment.

Real, tangible solutions to contemporary challenges come from a blend of industry insights, innovative thinking, and strategic business approaches – attributes that have always been the backbone of progress.

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