Oil magnet to lead the global conference to phase out oil? UAE has a unique opportunity to show the way: An Indian perspective

Dr Al Jaber has been awarded the Champion of the Earth award from UNEP.  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conferred on him a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to energy security, building bridges to emerging Asian economies, and reshaping traditional energy business models.

Rajendra Shende Feb 09, 2023
Dr Sultan Al Jaber

‘Merchant of Death’ was the headline to describe Alfred Bernhard Nobel, a Swedish scientist and businessman who made millions of dollars by selling explosives. That dynamite became the game-changer in the history of wars. Dynamite was the single most destructive invention ever in the history of weaponry that is still used in battles of the 21st Century. A European newspaper stated in the 1860s that Alfred Nobel "made fortune by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before".

More than 25 years later Nobel decided to donate more than 90 percent of his life earnings to create a symbol of respect and honour for the people who contributed to the betterment of mankind. One of the categories, the globally most recognised Nobel Peace Prize, continues to inspire billions of the world even today in the 21st century. The Nobel Peace Prize is given annually to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of humanity in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace.  

‘Merchant of Death’ is now known as ‘Messiah of Peace’! The fortune made by Alfred Nobel by ‘killing people’ is now deployed to honor fortunate few for ‘saving mankind’, Since his death by end of the 19th century the world awaits every year for the Nobel Peace Prize and draws inspiration from the work of the awardees.

UAE as COP28 chair

The President of COP28, United Nations’ 28th annual Conference of Parties to be held later in 2023 in Dubai, is now cynically referred to as the ‘Merchant of Disasters’. His name is Dr Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). He is also called a "fox in the hen-house"  by most of the misled media and so-called green activists.  The detractors, who are responsible for delayed actions on climate change for the last three decades and making COPs a theatric exercise of talk shows, have gone berserk in writing and talking against him.  They ask ‘how the oil man busy making fortune by overlooking the disastrous and life-threatening impacts of climate change that kills the people, can chair the climate COP that would promote faster action on phasing out fossil fuels including oil?’. 

The IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - established by United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, and World Meteorological Organization, was one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize for its untiring global efforts to highlight the fatal risks facing the planet due to global warming and climate change. Right from the early 1990s IPCC has been warning the policymakers that root cause of climate change is the emission of the Green House Gases, GHGs. Carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas - is the major contributor to climate change. The key solution to this problem of planetary proportion, therefore, is to get rid of fossil fuels altogether.  The latest report of IPCC released in April last year stated that "the global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach ‘net zero’. For limiting global warming to 1.5°C means achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions globally by the early 2050s; for 2°C by the early 2070s". The short-term indication that the world is on a such net-zero path to achieve the target of 2 deg C is that all global greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest.

Large sections of the influential Western media considered that UAE is not the right place to hold COP28, and even if it was held, how Dr Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the largest oil producing company in UAE could be appointed as President of COP28 that would discuss the time table to end his business and his fortunes.

UAE's reduced carbon emission

Let us see things in perspective.  First, the UAE is the 7th largest oil-producing country in the world; Canada, the  4th largest oil-producing and 6th largest gas-producing country has already held COP 11; Qatar, the 5th largest gas-producing country was the host country for COP18. As regards coal-producing countries, 2nd largest (India), 3rd largest (Indonesia), 7th largest (South Africa),  9th largest ( Germany), and 10th largest ( Poland ) held COPs once or more than once. Each country’s environment or energy ministers, oil and gas ministers as well as the officials overseeing fossil fuel have presided over these COPs. The USA, Russia and China are yet to hold any COPs.

None of these host countries have demonstrated any decline in emissions of GHGs since their hosting of COPs, though a country like India has shown national and international leadership in generating the nationwide net-zero campaign through lifestyle change and setting up the International Solar Alliance.

As against this scenario, it is noteworthy that UAE’s CO2 emission has reduced over years and it appears to have peaked in 2015. None of the countries from where past Presidents of COPs came, can boast of such achievements made under the leadership of Dr Sultan Al Jaber.

Al Jaber's track record 

First of all, contrary to the popular belief, he does not belong to the royal family of the UAE. He is a professional with a passion for innovation. He has risen to his present position through exemplary career progression. His chemical engineering and management education, including Ph.D. from well-known universities in the UK and USA, was financed by scholarships

He rose to become an influential member of the United Arab Emirates government, holding roles as a minister of industry, CEO of ADNOC, and chairing the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, otherwise known as Masdar.

His strategy seems to be clear: financing the renewables from the fortunes of the oil business.  His Masdar project is a perfect example. It is based on Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050. Rooftops, solar parks, solar power plants, waste-to-energy plants, and spreading such projects in other countries as well. Masdar is one of the largest developers of renewable energy with front-line technologies in the world. Deploying wind energy in island countries is yet another strategy that takes advantage of winds from seas and oceans.  

Masdar city is fed by 10 MW of solar panels on the ground and 1 MW from the rooftops of the houses. As compared to today’s large solar power plants in India and China these capacities are much smaller; however it is worth recalling that Dr Sultan Al Jaber had initiated the Masdar project in 2008, much before the waves of large solar plants started striking the shores of sunny countries.

The multi-talented personality, Dr Al Jabar had started his career as a process engineer. Now, as CEO of an oil company and minister of UAE's industry and advanced technology, Dr Sultan Al Jaber has become an icon of the young generation, mainly because of his initiatives in renewable energy, innovation and digital technologies.  He was invited by the UN Secretary-General on the panel for the High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All. He has been UAE’s climate envoy in earlier COPs. No other president of any COPs in the past has such hands-on experience and grounding credentials.  To top it all he is now leading the project of Green Hydrogen through partnerships with multinationals.  

Dr Al Jaber has been awarded the Champion of the Earth award from UNEP.  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conferred on him a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to energy security, building bridges to emerging Asian economies, and reshaping traditional energy business models.

Another Alfred Nobel?

Dr Sultan Al Jaber has a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the world, as UAE’s ruling Zayed family has done so far through the establishment of awards on sustainability and environmental protection, how an oil-producing country can use its fortune for the betterment of mankind.

The world has now another opportunity to get to know yet one more Alfred Nobel. We should let Dr Sultan Al Jaber develop yet another out-of-box strategy to rescue the world from climate disaster. He can use his 'oil dynamite' to establish another fund from the profits of the oil business to shame the developed countries who have not yet delivered on their promises of climate finances to developing countries. He can go beyond Alfred Nobel’s legacy to use the oil fortune to become CEO of the worldwide venture that supports renewables and hydrogen energy.

As the old Indian adage goes, the best way to remove the thorn stuck in the body is to use another thorn. The climate thorn stuck in the planet’s body can be removed by deploying yet another thorn strategy of Dr Sultan Al Jaber. 

(The writer is the founder director of Green TERRE Foundation and former Director UNEP. Views are personal. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)

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