COP28: Oil boss selected as climate conference president as UK and Saudi Arabia tout critical minerals collab  

Al Jaber, who was announced for the role today (12 January), is the chief executive of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation (ADNOC) and is also the UAE’s Special Envoy for Climate Change. He has held this latter role since 2010 and, in that post, has attended the previous 10 UN climate COPs. Additionally, Jaber is the UAE’s minister for industry and technology.

The announcement of Al Jaber’s appointment for COP28 has been anticipated for months. It has been timed to coincide with preparations Abu Dhabi Sustainability week, which is being put on by the UAE Government from 14-19 January as part of its preparations for the UN climate summit. Global figures set to be in attendance this week include the US’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, and King Charles III.

In his role at ADNOC, Jaber has overseen the foundation of the UAE’s first partly state-owned renewable energy firm, Masdar. ADNOC holds a 24% stake in Masdar. Masdar is the headline business host of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

ADNOC has set out plans for $15bn of investment in the low-carbon transition, but is a major emitter historically. It was named by CDP in 2017 as one of the 100 companies responsible for 71% of the greenhouse gas emissions generated globally by human activity since 1988. Specifically, CDP classed ADNOC as the world’s 14th largest source of historical emissions  within that timeframe. It also classed ADNOC as the world’s eighth largest source of emissions in 2015.

With this in mind, and with Saudi Arabia’s reported moves to block stronger language on reducing emissions from the energy sector at COP27 late last year, Al Jaber’s appointment as COP28 President will doubtless prove controversial. COP Presidents are tasked with assisting preparations for the summits ahead of time and overseeing international negotiations on final agreements on the ground.

Reacting to the appointment, Climate Action Network International’s executive director Tasneem Essop said: “Al Jaber cannot preside over a process that is tasked to address the climate crisis with such a conflict of interest, heading an industry that is responsible for the crisis itself.

“If he does not step down as CEO, it will be tantamount to a full scale capture of the UN climate talks by a petrostate national oil company and its associated fossil fuel lobbyists.”

COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, concluded with a final text that did not mention phasing out all forms of fossil fuels – something that had been proposed in the draft. Oil and gas exporters including the UAE reportedly pushed for weaker language around ‘phasing down’ and advocated the mention of ‘low-emissions’ energy rather than clean or renewable energy, opening the possibility for carbon capture at fossil fuel plants to be framed as an alternative to renewables and nuclear. Also advocated was a pledge to reduce “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies rather than all fossil fuel subsidies.

With this in mind, and with national climate commitments setting the world on course to exceed the Paris Agreement’s temperature limits, the UN has scheduled an additional global climate meeting this September. In a first for the UN, it will host a ‘Climate Action Summit’ in the hopes of aligning national pledges with climate science and ensuring they include adequate detail on climate adaptation and nature-based solutions.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling on nations to develop “ credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis”.  Guterres said that the Summit would be “no nonsense” with “no room for back-sliders, greenwashers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years”.

Al Jaber’s statement

Accepting his appointment, Al Jaber said: “This will be a critical year in a critical decade for climate action.

“The UAE is approaching COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition. In cooperation with the UNFCCC and the COP27 Presidency, we will champion an inclusive agenda that ramps up action on mitigation, encourages a just energy transition that leaves no one behind, ensures substantial, affordable climate finance is directed to the most vulnerable, accelerates funding for adaptation and builds out a robust funding facility to address loss and damage.”

“Pragmatism and constructive dialogue must be at the forefront of our progress. As a nation at the crossroads of the globe, the UAE is well-positioned to build bridges, foster consensus and bring the world together in one shared mission to keep 1.5C alive and protect the planet for the generations who will follow us.”

Critical minerals partnership

In related news, the UK Government and the Government of Saudi Arabia have this week agreed to deepen collaboration on critical minerals, which will be needed in greater quantities as industries such as electric transport, grid-scale battery energy storage, solar and wind scale up. The agreement was confirmed at the Future Materials Forum in Riyadh (pictured below) and will be built upon with a set of formal commitments later this year.

Image: BEIS

The UK Government stated that, as supply and demand grow in the coming decades, it is important to ensure that supply chains are not “overly reliant on one country”, naming China. According to Our World In Data’s Hannah Richie, China currently accounts for more than 38% of the world’s copper refinery production, making it the largest player in the world. It is also the world’s largest player in terms of vanadium production and hosts the world’s third-largest reserves of lithium, behind only Chile and Australia.

“The impact of Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine on energy prices has shown us all how important international supply chains are to our economy, and why we can never be too reliant on any one nation,” said Business Secretary Grant Shapps.

“That’s why it’s so key that we work with partners like Saudi Arabia to make sure our supply chains are diverse and robust, supporting jobs and prosperity across the UK in the decades to come.”

While it has not yet grown its production or refinery capacity as rapidly as some other markets, Saudi Arabia does sit on considerable critical mineral reserves, which it has valued at $1.3trn.

The UK Government has stated that the new agreement paves the way for British mining and refining firms to do business  in Saudi Arabia, and for greater Saudi investment in British manufacturing and mining finance.  It has also stated that there will be opportunities to improve environmental and human rights standards and enhance transparency in critical mineral supply chains. Almost 500 allegations of human rights abuse linked to the extraction of transition minerals were made between 2010 and 2021 according to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

The collaboration announcement follows the UK’s first Critical Minerals Strategy, which was published last July.

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