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RIP Mohammad Barkindo: a pioneer full of energy

The OPEC secretary general cared deeply about climate change and was instrumental in the transition to a decarbonised world

Mohammad Barkindo, secretary general of OPEC, passed away aged 63 Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
Mohammad Barkindo, secretary general of OPEC, passed away aged 63

The passing of OPEC secretary general, Dr. Mohammad Barkindo, comes amid  challenging times for global energy and calls for reflection on the great man and the wider industry.

While Barkindo’s name has been synonymous with OPEC, his contributions on wider global energy policy fronts – including climate change – are equally worth noting.

In 1991, Dr. Barkindo headed the technical delegation of Nigeria in the IPCC’s UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which established the groundbreaking international environmental treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system” at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (dubbed ‘Earth Summit’ and later succeeded by the landmark Kyoto protocol in 1997). 

The treaty called for scientific research and meetings, negotiations, and future policy agreements to allow different ecosystems to adapt to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

His notable work on this front got him elected as VP for three consecutive climate conferences of COP13 (Bali, 2007), COP14 (Poznan, 2008) and COP15 (Copenhagen, 2009).

In his homeland, a developing nation and Africa’s most populous country, Barkindo’s career started in the early 80s in the Nigerian Mining Corporation, before moving to the National Petroleum Corporation.

This lent him a first-person view of the role extractive industries play in the economies of resource-rich developing nations and providing livelihood for its citizens. 

From 1993, during the period he represented Nigeria in OPEC’s Economic Commission Board for 15 years, he was a strong voice of Africa and the world’s developing nations, and not merely a global oil executive. 

Fast forward to his election as OPEC secretary general in 2016, the oil industry was reeling from the 2015 oil price crash triggered by the global market glut from US shalewhich consequently started a global price war for marketshare where OPEC members abandoned production targets.

In a notable TV interview in June 2016 outside OPEC HQ, just after his announcement as secretary general, Barkindo responded to a critical question on how OPEC could function without production targets, saying: “You have to give OPEC credit for being the only organisation I know of that has witnessed such turmoil as wars between its members, and yet survived”.

Hence, Dr. Barkindo started his role by restoring unity amongst OPEC members and even extended that to coordination with non-OPEC oil producers, most notably the fruition of “OPEC+”, that is still able to function in the current ultra-polarised world.

With the global energy reset since 2020, he acknowledged the need for the O&G industry to step up climate action – underscoring its key role in climate change solutions. 

Conversely, he also warned of the unintended consequences of radical withdrawal of O&G investments and the dangers of such an approach to  global energy security, socioeconomic, and even human development. 

There are no better words to sum up Barkindo’s vision than his statement made during an official visit to ITER in April 2022: “Energy is the lifeblood of civilisation; the prosperity that we see in many parts of the world can be attributed to energy availability. There is a misinterpretation of the basic principles of the energy transition. 

“The current conversation is distorted to some extent, that it is a transition from one set of energy sources to another, from fossil fuels to renewables. 

“This is a distortion of the science, the facts, and the data. The transition is about moving from emissions of greenhouse gases to a decarbonised world, driven by technology, policies, corporate decision-making, and much more.” 

Ramy Al-Ashmawy is a senior energy specialist at the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP)

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