The then-crown prince, Abu Dhabi’s oil-rich Abu Dhabi, wondered aloud what would happen to his sheikhdom after the end of the fossil fuel era. At the 2015 Government Summit, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan posed the question to participants: “After we have loaded the last barrel of oil,” “If our investment today was right, I believe–dear brothers & sisters–we’ll celebrate that moment.”
Sultan Al Jaber, an Emirati renewables executive, was soon given the responsibility of managing the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.. It is the 12th-largest oil and gas producer in the world. This seemed to be a sign of a change in a country with nearly $9 trillion worth of untapped oil. Adnoc’s extraordinary wealth has created a desert that is sparsely populated with beautiful cityscapes, lush green courses, and huge airports in just a few decades. This task was given to Adnoc, who had spent most of his career investing in renewable energy and tried unsuccessfully to build a zero carbon city in the desert. The mission was to figure out how to sell energy indefinitely without global warming emissions.
Al Jaber was again selected to help solve another vexing problem. The Adnoc chief will organize COP28, the critical United Nations climate summit. It will bring together heads of state, diplomats and activists from all 200 countries. He will be responsible for guiding hostile factions towards consensus.This means that the task of fixing the climate is now in the hands of a real fixer with the support of the autocratic ruler of the host country. It’s risky. It’s a gamble. The boss of one the largest polluters in the world, Exxon and BP together, is the person who has the greatest influence on global warming.
Al Jaber gave an hour-long interview in thw, the first he has given since taking over leadership of COP28. He stated that it is possible to have a climate expert running an oil company. His role as the public face for clean energy from the UAE has led to him being misunderstood. He recalls his days working for Masdar, a state-owned renewables company. “Some people would be very excited and others would be puzzled by the fact that you’re a major oil-producing country.”
The fact that Adnoc’s production capacity is expanding and resulting in an increase in its already large emissions, has caused anger among green groups. He also organizes the process through which countries pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Al Jaber’s work “threatens” the legitimacy and efficacy of the UN summit, according to more than 400 environmental and climate groups . Two dozen US legislators petitioned for diplomatic pressure on Al Jaber to be expelled.
Critics are concerned that the oil industry will become intertwined in the climate summit. There are already indications of this: Adnoc is paying some consultants and staff who are working on COP28, according to people who did not want to be identified and spoke without permission. Al Jaber representatives stated in a statement, that the UAE government funds COP28 and that strict governance rules ensure the company’s separation from the state-owned oil company.
Sandrine Dixson Decleve, coprésident of the Club of Rome and a long-time COPgoer, has been telling her colleagues to stay away. She says that Adnoc’s money has gotten so far, she is amazed at how much.
According to interviews with over four dozen of his colleagues, Al Jaber has been frustrated by the backlash. Many of them declined to be identified. He expected that his years of work on sustainability would earn him a warm embrace from the COP community.
Some leaders, including important diplomats, did. Al Jaber was supported by the Maldives, an isolated nation that is vulnerable to small increases in sea level. The European Union’s climate chief FransTimmermans, a climate-cutting hawk, endorsed Al Jaber. John Kerry, the US climate envoy, suggested that what critics called a conflict-of-interest–a diplomat who is also a businessman –would actually help solutions “move quicker and at greater scale.”
Al Jaber and his critics are in agreement about one thing: We need a solution right away. The UN process, eight years after Paris, is still considered vital even though it hasn’t made rapid progress. In 2022, greenhouse gas emissions reached record levels. This was due to a growing demand for coal and an energy crunch that followed Russia’s invasion. The UN’s March climate report will shape the upcoming summit. It calls for an immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Al Jaber explains that the Paris breakthrough was achieved because “we were dealing with different circumstances.” “All that we did in previous COPs now serves a different purpose.”
One of Paris’ key architects is now calling for change. Laurence Tubiana (CEO of the European Climate Foundation) says that “COP summits cannot continue with business as usual.” Tubiana, Dixson Decleve, and other high-ranking experts wrote to the UN to propose reforms to the process. These included reducing the number of participants and creating concrete plans for eliminating fossil fuels.
Al Jaber (49) wants “transformational progression.” Last year’s summit was hosted by Egypt. Fossil-friendly countries took backguard actions in order to eliminate such language. BR24″>”phase out oil and gas in a just way” in a recent talk at a diplomatic gathering in Germany.
Al Jaber will make use of the UAE’s diplomatic power to stop the fighting at COP meetings (wealthy Global North versus less developed South, Europe versus Russia and US versus China) that inevitably impede progress. Al Jaber alone cannot force all countries to agree. As COP president, he will limit the amount of progress that is possible.
Al Jaber’s family is from Umm Al Quwain. This is one of the seven smallest emirates of the UAE. His origins are far removed from Abu Dhabi’s ruling elite. Sultan’s mother was an immigrant in a country where power is a preserve of Emiratis. His ascent is made all the more remarkable by this fact.
He was a bright student who came from a small country, the UAE, where there were only 1 million people. He progressed quickly and received scholarships from Adnoc. Adnoc was looking for young talent to join its rapidly growing oil and gas industry. After studying chemical engineering at the University of Southern California, he went on to study business administration at California State University Los Angeles. He then completed a Ph.D. degree in economics at Coventry University.
Between degrees, he returned to his home country to work with Adnoc on oil- and gas projects. Al Jaber’s early years coincided with discussions about oil production peaking and advances in solar and wind energy. Al Jaber’s career was rediscovered by Sheikh Mohammed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He asked him to join a global tour to discover where renewable energy is.
Al Jaber travelled to 15 countries across four continents over three months and returned with a grand vision. Al Jaber envisioned a city that would be sustainable and could train people in green technology deployment. He wanted to create a planned suburban area of 50,000 people close to Abu Dhabi’s airport and make the entire complex carbon neutral. His bold vision received substantial support from the sheikh who contributed $15 billion to Masdar City.Al Jaber’s passion for renewables was a mystery to all who had the opportunity to meet him during this time. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was the president of Iceland at that time and hosted Al Jaber during his tour. He explained how Iceland’s geothermal power drove its development. The politician eventually believed in Al Jaber’s method and became a juror to a sustainability prize named for the UAE’s first President.
Masdar City’s 45-meter tower is located in the middle of Masdar City. It channels cool air onto shaded streets. Two autonomous electric vans travel a few hundred metres. A 10-megawatt Solar Project is visible at the town’s edge, but it’s not sufficient to meet demand from even a small number of people. The mostly natural-gas-powered grid draws some electricity, so the little that has been built isn’t carbon-free.
After 15 years of hard work, most of the development area remains undeveloped. The 2016 deadline has passed. A new goal has been established for 2030. Masdar, the company Al Jaber still leads as chairman, focuses primarily on the deployment and operation of renewable energy projects. This includes utility-scale solar plants Uzbekistan and wind farms in the USA, and a UAE waste-to-energy facility.
As with many other energy-producing countries, the UAE’s efforts toward a cleaner future far outweigh its current carbon-heavy state. Masdar, for instance, reported that its investments made in over 40 countries had prevented 7.5 million tons annually of carbon dioxide emission. These savings are insignificant when compared to the massive oil company Al Jaber also owns. Adnoc Gas Plc and Adnoc Distribution–just two subsidiaries–accounted for 45 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2021.And though Adnoc claims to power its own operations with nuclear and solar, it’s not really possible to measure Al Jaber’s success at decarbonization, because the company doesn’t report its aggregate emissions. Nearly all Adnoc’s peer companies that have set net-zero goals, including Saudi Aramco and Exxon Mobil–publish more detailed data. Representatives for Al Jaber stated that Adnoc is currently reporting emissions from its operations. It is obvious that Adnoc’s emissions will rise in the near future. It expects to increase oil production by 25%, reaching 5 million barrels per day by 2027.
This tension is what drives Al Jaber’s climate opponents to despair. Al Jaber began his journeys before COP28, insisting that the 1.5C goal was “non-negotiable.” These two positions–a vastly increasing hydrocarbon production and slowing down the world’s runaway pursuit of the Paris temperature limit–are difficult to reconcile. Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency says that a company cannot increase oil production while claiming it meets Paris goals. “I’m sorry but they must choose.”Al Jaber rose to power and prominence between founding Masdar in 2006, and his appointment as Adnoc’s top executive in 2016. His responsibilities span many industries and organizations. Although he could have a huge LinkedIn profile if he included all of them, only six are listed.
He was elected to the UN’s advisory panel on energy and climate in 2009, and he also served as chairman of Abu Dhabi Ports. He was appointed climate envoy to the UAE in 2009 and led a successful campaign for Masdar City to become the permanent headquarters of the newly established International Renewable Energy Agency. He married the daughter Mana Al Otaiba in 2011, one of the longest serving oil ministers. In 2013, he was elected minister of state. His portfolio was expanded to include the chairman of National Media Council, responsible for government messaging and domestic media. Recent additions include the chairmanship of Emirates Development Bank, and government minister for advanced technology and industry. At least 12 organizations have him on their boards, including an artificial intelligence university.
How can one person have so many jobs at once? Alok Sharma, the president of COP26 had to quit his other job as a minister in UK government to help plan the 2021 climate summit in Glasgow. Al Jaber’s advisors say that Emiratis can often assume multiple roles, and that he is particularly adept at delegating and hiring. Many say that he is a tireless worker who seems to be well-prepared for meetings.
Al Jaber is described as charming by climate diplomats, but he also has a reputation as being brusquely transactional and aloof. Adnoc’s advisers tell him that he has a favorite question to ask employees: “What value do we add to the company?” Grimsson and other people who have worked with him over time describe his abrupt style as the price for getting things done.
Since its inception, the UAE has had only Al Nahyan-related presidents. The power structure rewards loyal people and those who do difficult jobs well. Al Jaber was responsible for the UAE’s assistance to Egypt in 2015. He flew often to Cairo to meet with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. Al Jaber had earlier overthrown democratically elected Mohamed Mursi. Andreas Krieg, a lecturer on Middle Eastern security issues at King’s College, London, says that Al Jaber was kind of the viceroy Sheikh Mohammed in Egypt for years. It started after the coup. Al Jaber, who was soon appointed to the Adnoc top job, oversaw thousands in job cuts. This angered Emiratis, who had assumed that the company would offer a good-paying job for the rest of their lives.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Al Jaber plays a media role and helps to maintain tight control over local media and Arabic content partnership with Sky News and CNN. Many people familiar with the National publication, which is owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s sister, believe Al Jaber tried to influence media coverage in order to manage diplomatic relations with UAE allies.
Al Jaber spokesperson said that “the suggestion of editorial interference cannot be supported by any evidence.” Representatives from Sky News Arabia, CNN Business Arabic, and the National all denied the allegations and stated that they are independent editorially.
This is a difficult task that requires a lot of media management. COP28 marks only the second time a major hydrocarbon-dependent economy has hosted the UN climate summit, and the last time–COP18 in 2012, hosted by Qatar–predated the Paris Agreement.
Now, expectations are very different. All 10 largest economies have made net zero a top priority. The world is also facing worsening climate-related disasters. This combination keeps climate top-of-mind. The outcomes of COP meetings are now making headlines all over the globe, as there is not enough progress.
The missing $100 billion annually in payments to developing countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to the warming climate is a clear sign of the unfulfilled promises made by COP. Dixson Decleve says, “If we can’t finally get the $100 billion climate finance, then we shouldn’t continue.”
The COP process doesn’t work because it isn’t designed for success. Meetings still follow rules that were established more than 30 years ago and require unanimous agreement. These rules were created because the oil giant Saudi Arabia prevented majority voting from taking place, which made it possible for one country hold the outcome hostage. This is why COPs tend not to produce more than one country can agree on.
Jennifer Morgan, Germany’s climate envoy, stated in an interview that COP28 success comes down to delivering on a number of needs, including stronger commitments to reduce emissions, financial assistance for developing countries to manage green transition, and payment for damages due to climate change. She said that COP presidencies were viewed and evaluated by their outcomes.Even though the COP president is in control, small details can have a significant impact on the perception of the summit. Consider the battle at the COP summit last year between the US, India, EU and a group vulnerable countries who wanted a science-backed agreement to phase out fossil fuels. This was blocked by Saudi Arabia China Egypt and other countries. Morgan expects that the EU will push for an even tougher stance on emissions in Dubai. Al Jaber will be the referee and have broad discretion as to how it is handled.
The UN climate summit is more than just a meeting of delegates. It’s an annual gathering for corporations who have a view on the energy transition and want to be able to sell it. Non-state actors have had a “green zone” provided by the UN for years to demonstrate their ability to meet global climate goals. It’s also a trade fair. In the glamorous setting of Expo City, which was recently home to a trade show that had 192 countries represented, the UAE is expected to host a record number of attendees for COP28. Protests are a big part of COPs and there are indications that the strict restrictions in Egypt for COP27 will be repeated by the UAE.
Al Jaber made it clear that he hopes to see one particular industry feel welcome. He told Houston oil and gas executives that some had felt excluded from the climate dialog in the past. He’s appealing to his peers as well: “The oil & gas sector must up its game, perform more, and do it quicker.”
Al Jaber’s COP28 team advisers see this priority translating to initiatives that will encourage companies and governments go beyond the consensus reached in the formal text. The “energy transition accelerator”, which will be launched prior to the summit, allows governments to make advance purchase commitments for decarbonized cement, steel, and aluminum, and create markets for essential commodities that have a green premium.
This summit won’t be a significant departure from previous COPs. Every summit is flooded with announcements from corporations and governments trying to align themselves with global goals. These initiatives often end up gathering dust after a lavish reception. Al Jaber’s team is determined to stop that from happening. It’s not yet clear how this will be accomplished.
This buildup will give Sheikh Mohammed, who was elected president of UAE in the last year, an opportunity to improve the country’s climate credentials. It is the first country in the Middle East that has set a goal for to reach net zero by 2050. However, it also has the highest per capita CO2 emissions. Some of the largest renewable projects in the world are located here, while Belgium generates more solar energy than it does. According to the COP28 team, the UAE’s environment minister is currently working to submit new commitments to UN to reduce carbon emissions. These are known as nationally determined contributions. Climate Action Tracker, a watchdog group, says that ‘s current plans are “highly inadequate.”
It can feel like everyone concerned about the future of humanity is in one place, thanks to the intense atmosphere at COP meetings. This extraordinary atmosphere will allow the UAE invite people to its meetings who have never thought of an oil monarchy as a climate ally. Al Jaber’s royal patron, Al Jaber, will not spare any expense to convince the crowd that the UAE is the new global hub of all things green, including technologies and financial services.