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Canadian politicians and civil society groups are decrying the United Arab Emirates’ decision to have an oil company CEO lead this year’s international climate talks.

The UAE is hosting the annual United Nations climate conference and recently announced Sultan Al Jaber, industry minister and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., would be president at this important forum for climate negotiations.

Canadian climate watchers were appalled that an oil company magnate from a country deeply invested in fossil fuel production was chosen to play host to a meeting where countries gather to chart a path to reduce planet-warming pollution for the good of the world.

As CEO, Al Jaber has a responsibility to maximize profit from oil and gas extraction for his state-owned company, Catherine Abreu, founder of the climate advocacy group Destination Zero, told Canada’s National Observer.

“That interest is directly in conflict with the interests a COP president should have, which is landing the most ambitious possible outcome from those climate talks,” said Abreu. She said the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change doesn’t have any conflict-of-interest policies that would address this, and it's the first time a serving oil executive has assumed the top role at a UN climate summit.

Al Jaber should step aside as CEO of the national oil company and “devote himself 100 per cent” to the “critical role” of COP president, which requires a “tremendous amount of advance work,” said Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May, echoing the calls of some civil society groups.

The only mitigating factor is the fact Al Jabar wears two hats when it comes to energy. Alongside his CEO duties, he chairs the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, also known as Masdar, a renewable energy firm. The company website says it advances innovation in clean technologies and is adopting a “smart first-mover approach in green hydrogen.”

May said that went some small way to temper her “horror at the whole situation,” said May.

“It's unfortunate that we're meeting in the United Arab Emirates, just to be blunt,” May told Canada’s National Observer, noting that the United Nations system has a rotation for each region of the world. “It's certainly not ideal when a conference is in a country that's deeply embedded in promoting fossil fuels.”

Canadian politicians and civil society groups are decrying the United Arab Emirates’ decision to have a national oil company CEO lead this year’s international climate talks. #COP28 #ClimateChange

The recent United Nations climate conference in Egypt faced criticism for the more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance. The host country has a large bearing on the outcome of the negotiations, said May.

Every five years, the UN rotation brings the climate conference to Poland, which May said makes for “terrible COPs because Poland is a coal industry country and doesn't support the success of phasing out coal and phasing out fossil fuels.”

She predicts a similar issue with COP28 taking place in the UAE, which is among the top 10 oil producers in the world and as of 2019, recorded the fourth-highest emissions per capita behind Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. However, “the pressure on the country and the president right now and the reaction to his appointment could push them in a good direction,” May mused.

In 2021, the UAE pumped out 3.8 million barrels of oil per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The oil and gas industry accounted for 30 per cent of the UAE’s GDP in 2020 and is home to vast oil and gas reserves.

“Can we really believe that the next COP presidency will promote progress in the fight against climate change?” Bloc Québécois environment critic Monique Pauzé told Canada’s National Observer in an emailed statement. “Petro-lobbies are gaining far too much ground at the moment, with great harm to the entire planet.”

“… To have a representative of this industry preside over (COP28), that's the last straw!” Pauzé’s statement reads. Pauzé believes that multi-lateral diplomatic efforts by the federal government to overturn this nomination are “a must,” yet she doubts Canada will deliver on this.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault “looks forward” to meeting with the presidency later this year “to begin advancing an ambitious agenda,” reads a statement from an Environment Canada spokesperson. “We are more committed than ever to support the global transition to cleaner, renewable forms of energy, by transitioning away from our dependency on fossil fuels."

The UAE aims to produce almost half its energy from renewables by 2050 and as of October 2022, has six hydrogen energy projects under development. Its 2050 energy strategy says 38 per cent of the country’s energy will come from gas, six per cent from nuclear, and 12 per cent from coal coupled with carbon capture technology.

NDP environment critic Laurel Collins said she’s “disappointed” the federal government isn't speaking out and objecting to Al Jaber’s nomination, but is not surprised.

“This is, unfortunately, something that we see here in Canada and around the world, where governments are listening to oil executives and big oil corporations over the interests of their own citizens,” Collins told Canada's National Observer in a phone interview.

At COP27, over 80 countries called for the inclusion of a commitment to phase out fossil fuels in the final agreement. This year, Abreu expects every single one of those countries — including Canada, which supported the call at the 11th hour — to talk to their UAE counterparts about how they plan to ensure the climate talks aren’t subject to the same level of influence from fossil fuel interests that we saw last year, or in previous years.

“If we continue to have the UNFCCC being dominated by interests that would rather maintain the status quo, then the ability of countries to have that conversation will continue to be left out,” said Abreu.

There are also questions that countries and civil society groups can use to put UAE to the test in the run-up to COP28, she said.

“Will we advance on the conversation about fossil fuel phaseout that started at COP27? Will the UAE take action to limit the influence of fossil fuel lobbyists … or will we see that number grow even from last year?” asked Abreu.

Something concrete the UAE could do, as an act of goodwill, is shift some of the billions it has made in windfall profits from oil and gas revenue into climate finance, she said, pointing to Barbados, which in November called for oil and gas companies to put one per cent of their profits into a fund to help pay for damage caused by climate change.

This year’s climate talks will be particularly important because countries will take stock of whether the world is on track to meet its climate goals, said May.

Conservative environment critic Gérard Deltell declined to comment.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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It is shocking and appalling that this President & CEO of a major state-owned oil Company in the UAE is to be President of the forthcoming COP meeting in the UAE, which country depends on high oil and gas profits and is the fourth highest per capita emitter of GHG pollution. This surely by any definition constitutes a major CONFLICT OF INTEREST for Al Jabar, and forecasts a poor outcome for this vital Climate Conference.
Thus I call on Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment Minister Guilbeault to LEAD in calling for Mr. Al Jabar to step down from this conflicted role. And I call on all of our Canadian Climate organizations, large and small, to work together urgently to strongly press Trudeau and Guilbeault to take this action now —to be the Climate Leaders that they claim to be.

Agree completely!

From a 2022 November 25th column by the Globe's Eric Reguly:
__________

"Time to kill off the big, fat COP climate conferences that accomplish almost nothing.

"The first United Nations climate conference I covered was the 2009 COP15 dud in Copenhagen. Since then, I have worked the conference mob scenes in Paris, Madrid and, earlier this month, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. They were duds, too, in the sense that none ended with formal agreements to reduce fossil-fuel use – the only metric that matters as average global temperatures rise to dangerous levels.

"The annual COPs have turned into chaotic, bloated carnivals where, in their final desperate hours (most of them go into overtime) the distraught host-country presidency produces a face-saving agreement that allows it to declare a victory of some sort – or at least deflect some of the criticism that the outcome was a total failure. Even a breakthrough that barely fits the definition is billed as a win, since these events operate by consensus; any one of the nearly 200 countries in the room can kill the whole show.

"So it was at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheik, the string of gated-community resorts on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai desert. Instead of a realistic plan to phase down all fossil fuels, not just coal, the event ended with a vague commitment to launch a “loss and damage” fund. If this concept borne of rich-country guilt comes to life – big if – it would help pay for the damages inflicted in poor countries by catastrophic climate events.

"[...] these COPs (for Conference of the Parties) always come up short by almost every measure, from financing to emissions reductions. The Sharm el-Sheik event was no exception. It set some new lows that will be hard to beat.

"To begin with, there was nothing environmentally sustainable about the conference itself, which was held in a village composed of enormous pop-up pavilions that were chilled to numbing temperatures by noisy, industrial air conditioners. The pavilions were routinely short of food and fresh water. For the vast majority of the 35,000 attendees, the only way to arrive was by airplane [are you paying attention, National Observer editors?].

"The conference was sponsored by Coca-Cola, one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters. About 600 oil and gas lobbyists prowled the halls. Their mission was not to see their industry go out of business. It was to keep the fossil-fuel era alive, a fairly easy challenge as the energy crisis sends many countries in Europe and elsewhere scrambling for new supplies of hydrocarbons even as they decry global warming.

[...]

"The COPs started out as a good idea. They were the result of the launch in 1992 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the goal of which was to prevent global warming from triggering an existential crisis for the planet. The first COP was held in Berlin in 1995.

"Since then, these events have expanded to the point that the actual negotiators seem like sideshows to the annual gabfest populated by tens of thousands of extras in the form of oil- and gas-industry shills, environmental groups, journalists, political hacks and fixers, PR men and women, assorted observers and government leaders, most of whom use fleeting photo-op appearances in an attempt to show they care about the environment (Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was a no-show in Sharm el-Skeikh but will surely show up at next month’s COP15 Biodiversity Conference in Montreal).

"The whole idea of city-size COPs has become ridiculous, all the more so since their accomplishments are meagre to non-existent: emissions keep rising and are set to reach record levels in 2022. Their time has come. But what to replace them with?

"At minimum, they should be slimmed down to their core pursuits, including negotiating emissions reductions, protecting carbon sinks such as the Amazon and Congo forests, and finding ways to help poor countries adapt to a problem not of their doing. This does not need a cast of thousands. It needs small, dedicated groups of negotiators who know their files and have direct access to their country’s environment and industry ministers. Call them mini-COPs

"Here, potentially, is an even better idea. Why have COPs of any size at all? Why not replace them with specialized teams who would quietly negotiate all the time, not just at big events once a year, where they come under extreme pressure to announce anything.

"A team responsible for the reduction of, say, methane (which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in atmosphere) would be composed of negotiators from a broad variety of countries working under the UNFCCC umbrella. They would work for as long as it takes to get the job done. A small summit devoid of human clutter could be used to push any deal over the finish line.

"Today’s carnivalesque events have proven expensive, climate unfriendly, chaotic, stressful – and largely useless. The results speak for themselves. Time to kill them off."

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-cop27-climat...
__________

I agree even more with this column than I did when I first read it two months back, mainly because the carbon lobby has now taken over the narrative and role as host. What's next, COP 30 in Fort Mac, everyone mouthing the word "transition" in every sentence without defining what it actually means?

Environmental groups and publications like the NO have also been played by the oil lobby through their own methodologies. Flying en masse to these humongous schmooze festivals is a product of merely wanting to be seen and to gang up on the opposition. The entire process was and remains completely unnecessary during the twin climate and COVID crises, and the groups have yet to answer for acting like jet setting oil company PR flacks.

Under the given circumstances, the important long distance discussions are more appropriately conducted with modern satellite communications and digital media journalism which reaches far wider audience than boiling everything down to a handful of sound bites at a final press conference.

What a waste of time and energy. Please take Reguly's final three paragraphs to heart.

There is a fairly broad line between being accused of “what-about-ism” and pointing out clear hypocrisy and illogical reasoning. So, let me point out a couple of the several examples, in this article, of the pot calling the kettle black and/or simple stupidity.

Let me preface by stating that the notion of installing an oil company CEO as the president of COP28 seems, minimally, bizarre. On the other hand, I have no idea what the COP president does, in fact. Also, given the reported significant number of fossil representatives insinuating themselves into the proceedings at COP27, it seems hardly anomalous. Perhaps Mr. Al Jabar can be enticed to entertain his fossil colleagues during the conference, allowing some meaningful work to get done elsewhere.

So, examples. Unfortunately, Elizabeth May features in more than one of these and I can’t figure out why she would say what she is quoted as saying.

1. Illogical reasoning. “Al Jaber should step aside as CEO of the national oil company and “devote himself 100 per cent” to the “critical role” of COP president, which requires a “tremendous amount of advance work,” said Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May, echoing the calls of some civil society groups.”

What good would it do if he were to “step-aside” for the duration of the conference and its preparation if he simply returns to the CEO position subsequently? I don’t imagine he would change his worldview in the course of his COP presidency. Further, I can’t imagine why Ms. May’s “horror” is, at all, assuaged by the fact he chairs the “Future Energy Company”. She knows better than most, I expect, that broad fossil interests have (cynically, arguably https://youtu.be/S2XTGteritE Warning: PG-rating) invested in renewables, even while their fossil interests remain business as usual.

2. Pot/black (but, more WTF?) ““It's unfortunate that we're meeting in the United Arab Emirates, just to be blunt,” May told Canada’s National Observer, noting that the United Nations system has a rotation for each region of the world. “It's certainly not ideal when a conference is in a country that's deeply embedded in promoting fossil fuels.”

Together with:

“In 2021, the UAE pumped out 3.8 million barrels of oil per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The oil and gas industry accounted for 30 per cent of the UAE’s GDP in 2020 and is home to vast oil and gas reserves.”

Hello!? The UAE is #7 on the list. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=709&t=6

Guess who is #4, sports fans? Eh?

3. Whatever. Stephen Guilbeault’s department’s bromide. ““We are more committed than ever to support the global transition…”

Considering the commitment, to-date, followed by action -- measured over decades -- has been minimal, “more than ever” may well be true!

4. If wishes were horses. “Something concrete the UAE could do, as an act of goodwill, is shift some of the billions it has made in windfall profits from oil and gas revenue into climate finance, [Abreu] said, pointing to Barbados, which in November called for oil and gas companies to put one per cent of their profits into a fund to help pay for damage caused by climate change.

That is something Canada could also do. But… I digress.

5. Last thing. Why (oh why) do we have a never-ending increase in the number of ENGOs being founded? Could such founders not find a home in the thousands of ENGOs already extant? I’m asking for a friend. It's like whack-a-mole... always another one popping up.

6. Really (truly, cross my heart) the last thing. CNO reported, in the lead-up to COP 27 that Canada was going to focus on "trust building" (though that made me wonder how many pine cones we had been placing on delegates chairs at earlier COPs. We Canadians, after all, can be mischievous! https://youtu.be/On9V1Qhq3ZY).

https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/11/08/news/cop27-canada-climate-ch...

So, as we continue greenlighting fossil fuel projects, while, from the other side of our maple-infused mouth, telling everyone else to smarten up, are we now more trustworthy than ever?!

Sorry for the tone, but the nature of the rhetoric, to the point of flat-tailed, stetson-adorned parody, is simply astounding to me.

Correction :

Current: "She knows better than most, I expect, that broad fossil interests have (cynically, arguably"

Should be: "She knows better than most, I expect, that broad fossil interests have (absolutely cynically"