March 22, 2023

A group of U.S. lawmakers wants the Biden administration to ask the United Arab Emirates to remove the oil company chief the country chose to lead the next U.N. climate talks — or at a minimum “seek assurances” that the UAE will promote an ambitious COP28 summit.

In a letter to Special Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry, 27 members of the House and Senate called for him to “urge” the UAE to withdraw the appointment of UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is also the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, to lead the COP28 discussions, which start November 30 in Dubai. The company is one of the world’s largest oil producers.

“The appointment of an oil company executive to head COP 28 poses a risk to the negotiation process as well as the whole conference itself,” said the note, which was shared exclusively with POLITICO.

“To help ensure that COP 28 is a serious and productive climate summit, we believe the United States should urge the United Arab Emirates to name a different lead for COP 28 or, at a minimum, seek assurances that it will promote an ambitious COP 28 aligned with the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit,” the lawmakers added.

Kerry — along with other climate diplomats, including the EU’s Frans Timmermans — has repeatedly defended Al Jaber’s appointment in recent weeks, calling him a “terrific choice” in an interview with the Associated Press. Kerry also said ADNOC understood the need to shift its business away from fossil fuels. Kerry’s office was not immediately available to comment on the letter.

A COP28 spokesperson, who had not seen the letter, defended Al Jaber’s record “as a diplomat, minister, and business leader across the energy and renewables industry.” They highlighted his role as founder of renewables company Masdar, calling it “one of the world’s largest renewable energy company with clean energy investments in over 40 countries.”

“His experience uniquely positions him to be able to convene both the public and private sector to bring about pragmatic solutions to achieve the goals and aspirations of the Paris Climate Agreement,” the spokesperson said.

But the U.S. lawmakers noted the long history of fossil fuel industry interference in climate talks.

“Having a fossil fuel champion in charge of the world’s most important climate negotiations would be like having the CEO of a cigarette conglomerate in charge of global tobacco policy. It risks undermining the very essence of what is trying to be accomplished,” they wrote.

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