‘Fox in the henhouse’: African climate activists decry Sultan Al Jaber’s appointment as COP28 president

Oil company CEO’s appointment as COP28 president will embolden fossil fuel lobbies and derail global climate action, said experts

By Tony Malesi
Published: Monday 16 January 2023
Activist expressed fear that the appointment would derail global commitment to divesting ‘dirty’ energy to limit global temperature. Photo: Twitter@Office Of The UAE Special Envoy For Climate Change.

African climate activists and civil society organisations have condemned and protested the appointment of Sultan Al-Jaber, head of oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), as the president of the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) and other civil society organisations protested the appointment at a joint press conference over the weekend in Nairobi. The activists called it a mockery to fight against climate change. 

Also read: ‘Explosion’ in number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27 climate summit

“We have learnt with consternation that a fossil fuel executive will lead 2023 climate change negotiations. As COP28 president, the oil tycoon will be at the centre of important deal making and exert enormous influence on the COP outcome,” they said.

The United Arab Emirates, on January 10, 2023, appointed Sultan Al-Jaber, as the President-designate of the COP28, scheduled to take place in December 2023 in Dubai.

PACJA is a consortium of more than 1,000 organisations from 48 African countries that brings together a diverse membership drawn from grassroots, community-based organisations, faith-based organisations, non-profits, trusts, foundations and indigenous communities.

The membership also consists of farmers and pastoralist groups with a shared vision to advance a people-centred, right-based, just and inclusive approach to addressing climate and environmental challenges faced by humanity.

The appointment has provoked a furious backlash from climate activists and civil society members, even as they call on the oil chief to relinquish his role as ADNOC CEO, saying it represents an apparent conflict of interest with his COP28 position.

Also read: From Africa to Europe @ COP27: Keep off our gas fields

In the past, civil society has expressed worries about the capture of international dialogue on climate change by fossil companies whose ill intentions are to derail the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient development pathways. But it has never been so blatantly open that they would one day occupy the steering wheel, the activists and civil society organisations lamented.

The appointment comes at a time the state-owned ADNOC, for which he is a CEO, seeks to develop oil resources by increasing the upstream crude production through concession agreements for new exploration and production. 

Citing ADNOC’s heavy investment in fossil fuels, the activists expressed fear that Al-Jaber’s appointment as COP28 president is a threat to the global commitment to divesting ‘dirty’ energy to limit global temperature to 1.5 degrees of global warming.

“This is a textbook definition of impunity and conflict of interest. Addressing climate change requires deep cuts in production and use of fossil fuels. That is squarely at variance with Al-Jaber’s commercial interests,” said PACJA executive director Mithika Mwenda.

Also read: Irony just died: Coca-Cola, among biggest global polluters, to sponsor CoP27

It is hard to see al-Jaber leading any objective, science-backed negotiations in the interest of vulnerable communities. He must step aside and allow an individual with little vested interest to lead this important work, Mwenda added.

COP28 will take place in a global energy crisis scenario orchestrated by the Russia-Ukraine crisis and when already industrialised and high-energy consuming countries are planning to reopen coal plants and drive new oil and gas developments, especially in Africa.

Due to this, some experts are billing COP28 to be the COP of the Energy Transition and, thus, a bad idea to have a fossil oil chief leading negotiations.

The appointment would embolden oil lobbies that derail global climate action, said Memory Kachambwa, executive director of the African Women Development and Communication Network.

“It is an insult to everyone committed to addressing the climate crisis and a disturbing show of bad judgement by the Emirates authorities,” she said at the press conference.

Everyone who cares about the health of the planet and the survival of its most vulnerable people at the frontline of climate crisis, particularly women and children, must rise and resist the appointment, she added.

As experts have often warned, despite decades of intense and passionate annual meetings, the world continues to emit more deadly gases than at any other time in history. 

Global warming has worsened and extreme weather events have become frequent and deadly. The bulk of emissions, about two-thirds, comes from the energy sector, experts often warn.

At COP27 in Egypt last year, world leaders failed to commit to phasing out all fossil fuels, which was considered the best course of action to reduce emissions significantly.

The programme coordinator of Youth and Governance ActionAid Kenya, Mercy Gichengi, said: 

It is not possible for a top official of a fossil corporation to deliver on his company’s financial interests and still act in the interest of the planet. The appointment can be equated to putting the fox to be in charge of the henhouse.

“To keep hopes of a transition from dirty energy alive, COP28 must decide to phase out coal and oil. This transition is at the heart of what the world expects from COP28. With a leadership whose priorities are inverted, this now looks very unlikely,” said Augustine Njamnshi, the coordinator of the pro-renewable energy African Coalition for Sustainable Energy and Access and Big Shift Campaign Africa.

The activists and civil society organisations urged the African Group of negotiators, the Vulnerable Countries Forum and allies in both Global South and North to stand up against what they described as ‘bad news early in the year’ and say NO to the Emirates.

Read more:

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.