The Emirati president-designate for the upcoming United Nations COP 28 climate negotiations urged oil and gas businesses on Monday to be "central to the solution" to combating climate change, a message delivered as the industry ramps up production to capitalise on higher global energy prices.
The appeal made by Sultan al Jaber at a major oil and gas conference hosted by his country highlights the divide between climate activists and elected officials sceptical of his industry ties and calls to cut global emissions by nearly half in seven years to limit average global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels, according to The Associated Press.
"That is our compass. "It is, in fact, our only destination," remarked al Jaber. "It is simply acknowledging and respecting science."
But, he continued, "We must do this while also ensuring human prosperity by meeting the energy needs of the planet's growing population."
Al Jaber is the CEO of the state-owned Abu Dhabi Oil Company (ADNOC), which has the capacity to produce four million barrels of crude oil per day and intends to increase that to five million barrels per day with additional investments worth $150 billion. He spoke during the biennial Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, abbreviated ADIPEC, which brings together the world's leading oil and gas companies.
While the theme of this year's conference is "decarbonizing faster together," the event is primarily about drilling, processing, and selling the same carbon-belching fuels that are driving climate change, according to the Associated Press, and which cause more intense and frequent extreme events like storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires. Al Jaber has stated repeatedly that the world needs to rely on oil and gas to bridge the gap in the short term.
"The depletion of fossil fuels is unavoidable." In reality, it is critical," al Jaber stated. "Yet, this must be part of a comprehensive energy transition plan that is fair, that is fast, just, orderly, equitable, and responsible."
On the business front, though, the oil industry is on the mend. After briefly falling below $90 per barrel during the coronavirus outbreak, benchmark Brent crude oil is presently trading at $92.
Diesel prices are also predicted to climb because Russia has ceased exporting the fuel, which would likely worsen global inflation by raising freight transportation costs, which will be passed on to consumers.
Despite facing US sanctions for Moscow's conflict on Ukraine, Gazprom, Russia's state-owned natural gas business, had a significant presence at the conference exhibition. Russian officials attended Abu Dhabi's major arms bazaar earlier this year, demonstrating the UAE's growing financial ties to Moscow despite its long ties to the American military and hosting hundreds of American troops.
The meeting underlines the difficulties the UAE has experienced in convincing already sceptical climate scientists, campaigners, and others that it can host the United Nations meeting of the Parties (COP).
Though he was all smiles at Monday's press briefing, al Jaber acknowledged the harsh criticism he had received. On Saturday, he defended his country's hosting of the discussions he's due to oversee, rejecting opponents who "just go on the attack without knowing anything, without knowing who we are."
"For far too long, this industry has been viewed as part of the problem, as if it isn't doing enough and, in some cases, is even impeding progress," al Jaber told his audience. "This is your opportunity to show the world that, in fact, you are central to the solution."
Haitham al-Ghais, secretary-general of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), spoke directly after al Jaber, praising his remarks and defending the business.
"We are hearing calls to stop investing in oil." "We believe this is counterproductive," said al-Ghais. "The cornerstone of global economic prosperity today is energy security."
Al Jaber stated that 20 oil and gas companies have agreed to achieve "net zero" operations by or before 2050 and to stop routine gas flaring by 2030. However, the sector would continue to produce the oil and gas that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping heat. Their 2050 claim is based on unproven and underperforming carbon capture and storage technologies, which governments are being asked to lavishly subsidise, and would arrive years or decades late to contribute to the urgent goal of lowering global emissions by 45% by 2030.
Al Jaber, a 50-year-old lifelong climate ambassador, has been instrumental in this federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula spending or pledging tens of billions of dollars on renewable energy. Al Jaber and his supporters, notably US climate envoy and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the UAE this week, see this as a sign that he can lead the COP28 discussions.