The oil chief will lead the next global climate conference. Although this may seem scandalous, it is also practical, says expert David Ryfisch in an interview.
It moves from one desert to another: perhaps the most important summit in the world will be held in 2023 on the Persian Gulf. More precisely: in the UAE, which also includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The country is taking over from Egypt to host the United Nations World Climate Conference; Preparations have been underway at the Dubai Expo site for a long time. However, it was only recently known who the Emirates had chosen to be the official face, moderator and cheerleader of the meeting: Sultan Ahmed Al-Dashabir – a highly controversial choice.
Because Dashabbir is the acting managing director of the largest oil company in the United Arab Emirates, the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
However, the 49-year-old is set to chair the conference at this year’s UN climate meeting. For some, employees are a scandal, for the oil state an opportunity to say: coal may go, oil stay. In an interview with t-online, David Ryfisch, an expert on international climate policy at the NGO Germanwatch, explains why criticism is warranted and why Emirates’ decision is smart nonetheless.
t-online: An oil CEO will lead the 2023 global climate conference. Is it as deadly as it sounds?
David RevishIt just so happened that the president of the United Nations climate conference had a past in the oil business. But there has never been an active oil chief as climate chief. This is a bit like a sugar producer formulating health policy.
Sultan Al-Jaber has repeatedly made it clear that his country wants to produce more oil in the future. How much risk would he, as conference president, slow rather than advance stronger climate protection?
Of course, the Sultan’s image overshadowed the preparations. However, it would be wrong to assume that the oil and gas lobby will control the upcoming climate conference. There are many progressive countries and civil society actors that are pushing for a faster phase-out of fossil fuels. I hope there will be enough back pressure.
Isn’t an oil-loving host country sending exactly the wrong signal?
On the other hand, the United Nations does not have much say in the choice of venue, as the principle of rotation decides. This year it was the turn of the Asia regional group, with South Korea withdrawing its bid in favor of the United Arab Emirates. Perhaps the UAE wants to support South Korea’s candidacy for Expo 2030. On the other hand, the UAE’s prosperity comes from oil, but you still don’t have tunnel vision there.
One should not look at the country one-dimensionally. There is not only investment in oil and gas, but also huge investments in renewable energies and climate-friendly technologies.
what are you up to?
In Dubai, for example, one of the world’s largest solar power plants is connected to the grid. Green electricity from the system is incomparably cheap – a kWh sometimes costs just 2.4 cents. The neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi also has one of the largest photovoltaic systems in the world. The UAE is investing billions in a huge wind energy project in Egypt near Cairo.
At the same time, the UAE is one of the countries with the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
Sure, but there’s also a lot at stake in terms of climate and finances: average summer shade temperatures are already over 40 degrees and will continue to rise as a result of climate change. And the huge profits from the oil and gas business will not last – the golden age of oil and gas is already over, according to the International Energy Agency. Therefore, the UAE is also among the pioneers in the energy transition in the region.