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Everyone needs a seat at the Cop28 table, including oil CEOs

Sustainability, security and stability must be carefully balanced as we move towards net zero. The energy industry can and should take a leading role

Sultan Al Jaber meets pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard after the solar-powered plane Solar Impulse landed in Abu Dhabi on July 26, 2016. Al Jaber remains chairman of renewables specialist Masdar Reuters
Sultan Al Jaber meets pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard after the solar-powered plane Solar Impulse landed in Abu Dhabi on July 26, 2016. Al Jaber remains chairman of renewables specialist Masdar

The appointment of Dr Sultan Al Jaber as president of the Cop28 climate summit has been met with protests and praise – reflecting the polarised debate on the climate and energy crises.

But in order to make progress on these twin challenges, we need to build an inclusive global consensus on how the transition to net zero is actually going to work in different parts of the world.

The energy crisis of the past two years has brought a new realisation among political leaders that security and price stability are just as important as sustainability. This balancing act is sometimes called “the energy trilemma” and the world is beginning to realise how complex it is and the importance of real dialogue to make progress.

We are embarking on an unprecedented revolution in the energy system that underpins the $100 trillion world economy and supports the living standards of 8 billion people. 

Governments, companies and civil society all agree on the need to move faster, but the idea that we can hit net zero by curbing investment in our existing energy supply before there is an alternative is misguided.

Restrictions on investment in new oil and gas projects may actually end up delaying it. Bans by banks, the growth of environmental, social and governance investing and changes in corporate strategy had already pushed up energy prices to historic highs and increased energy poverty, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which made matters even worse.

As sky-high gas prices in Europe sucked in LNG supplies from all over the world, many countries in Asia were priced out of the market and turned to the only available alternative to keep the lights on – coal.

Coal production and carbon emissions reached a new high in 2022 because of the unintended consequences of calling a premature halt to oil and gas investment. We need a new inclusive approach to the transition that keeps energy markets stable, improves energy security and makes long-term progress towards emissions cuts.

In an opinion article published in August, Al Jaber laid out his vision for a just and equitable transition, which neatly encapsulates this approach. “Our ultimate goal should be to hold back emissions, not progress,” he wrote.

At the World Economic Forum meetings last week, there was a perceptible shift in the narrative. A growing majority now recognise the need to manage the transition. This pragmatic approach has also seen governments in the US, Europe and Asia enact legislation that aggressively scales up clean technologies, while taking steps to ensure ample supply of conventional energy in the short term.

Al Jaber became CEO of Adnoc in 2016 – but 10 years before that, he helped to set up Masdar, the Emirates’ renewables company that is now one of the largest investors in wind and solar. 

Today Adnoc operates one of the world’s largest carbon capture projects and has signed an agreement to invest in low-carbon hydrogen.

Al Jaber remains Masdar’s chairman and serves as the UAE’s minister of industry and advanced technology. He is also a veteran of climate talks, having held the post of UAE climate envoy from 2010 to 2016 and again since 2020.

His Cop28 appointment reflects a recognition that the energy industry can and should take a leading role in managing the “trilemma”. Not only does he have significant leverage over the flow of investments into conventional and renewable energy, but he will apply the rigour of a CEO to the summit process, setting ambitious targets for actions and making sure they are implemented.

He will help to build the new consensus on the transition, ensuring that all the relevant parties have a seat at the UN table. Only through greater understanding, collaboration and collective action can we achieve our climate goals while enhancing security and avoiding economic setbacks.

Joseph McMonigle is secretary general of the International Energy Forum, based in Riyadh. The UAE is one of the forum’s 72 member countries

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