He is the managing director of a major polluter, but Sultan Al Jaber will likely be welcomed and perhaps even congratulated on his arrival. at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which begins this weekend.
Mr. Al Jaber, who heads Abu Dhabi’s national oil company, which supplies around 3% of the world’s oil, has another job. He is the UAE’s special climate envoy and one of the founders of a multibillion-dollar state-owned company that invests in renewable energy.
For more than a decade, he has attempted to position the Persian Gulf state as a leader on environmental issues, acting at the behest of Abu Dhabi’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
In the latest of these initiatives, the United Arab Emirates pledged to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the first government in the region to make such a declaration. It joins a growing list of countries making long-term commitments that are difficult to assess.
“He is a pioneer in climate action,” said Karim Elgendy, a specialist in Middle East environmental issues at Chatham House, a research organization in London.
Serving as an advocate for the environment and a leader selling fossil fuels can seem like a contradiction. But not, apparently, in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven states including Abu Dhabi, whose oil production finances the other six.
Make no mistake: Abu Dhabi’s management wants to preserve a market for the UAE’s huge oil reserves, which are sufficient for over 60 years of production at current rates.
The Emirates produces around three million barrels of oil per day, mainly through the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, or ADNOC. These revenues support much of the country’s economy, funding the government and helping to support futuristic office tower city centers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
But the royal families who run the Emirates seem to have decided they had better be part of the solution to global warming, in partnership with much of the rest of the world – or at least be seen as such. (The country has already offered to host COP28, in two years.)
“A net zero goal has a business case behind it,” said Karen Young, senior researcher at the Middle East Institute, a research organization in Washington. “This places a state-owned hydrocarbon producer in a class of solution-seekers, rather than obstructionists.”
Analysts say reaching the net goal of zero, even by 2050, won’t be easy: The Emirates are one of the world’s largest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide, largely from power plants . But according to the climate accounting used at the COP, the oil exported by Abu Dhabi counts in the emissions of the customers who burn it, like China and Japan, and not in those of the producing state.
Still, the goal is likely to stimulate action and investment.
“You need a lofty goal to get things done in the right direction,” said Steven Griffiths, senior vice president for research and development at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi. “The country is probably in the best position of all the Gulf countries to do this.”
The Emirates plans to spend 600 billion dirhams, or $ 163 billion, over the next three decades to reduce emissions from power plants which now burn huge volumes of natural gas in part to cool buildings in the fierce heat of the Gulf. Much of the money will go to solar farms, which can be set up across the sands of the Emirates. Another source of clean energy will be a cluster of four nuclear reactors recently built by South Korean contractors in Abu Dhabi that will be gradually put into operation.
Analysts say spending that much money is bound to have a major impact in a small country of 9.9 million people that is already well ahead of neighboring oil exporters like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in diversifying its market. their savings away from oil. The Emirates, for example, is a regional hub for finance, logistics and tourism.
And more funding is likely to be available to support the green agenda, such as renovating buildings so that they don’t use as much energy for air conditioning, or converting transport to electric power or hydrogen. The Emirates are one of those places with the riches and the will to implement “projects at a loss that aim to be at the cutting edge,” said Raad Alkadiri, Managing Director of Energy and Climate at Eurasia Group , a political risk enterprise.
John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy and Mr. Al Jaber’s regular visitor to the Emirates, said in a twitter message that its commitment was “an example for other energy producing countries”.
The engagement may have already had an impact. At a conference in Riyadh last Saturday, officials from Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and frequent rival to the United Arab Emirates, said they would pledge to reach net zero by 2060.
Of course, there is an element of image burnishing here. The announcements allowed the Emirates and the Saudis to show themselves virtuous before world leaders gathered for COP26. They also provided Mr. Kerry, who attended the Saudi conference, with victories in his efforts to marshal pledges.
But these commitments also signal that the large petro-states now believe that the world has changed and that they must participate in measures to combat global warming.
“There has been a calculation that being at the table will allow you to shape this new world and the new climate economy,” Elgendy said.
And this new climate economy must adapt to the burning of fossil fuels, say these oil states.
Mr. Al Jaber, along with Saudi officials, asserted at the Riyadh conference that oil and gas would be needed to fuel the global economy for years to come – as well as to generate a source of income to pay for them. investments in new energy sources.
Recent shocks to natural gas and oil prices, which have skyrocketed electricity bills and forced some manufacturers to scale back or shut down, have resulted from premature reductions in investment in these resources, Al said. Jaber.
“The world is sleepwalking in a supply crisis,” he said. Oil and gas must remain “mainstream” during the so-called energy transition, he added.
These views go against the conclusions of some climate experts who say that new investment in oil and gas must stop immediately if the world is to stop climate change.
ADNOC is one of the few oil companies in the world to make substantial investments to increase its production. Last summer, the Emirates demanded that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries increase its production quota, leading to a high-profile – since resolved – standoff with the Saudis.
Five years ago, Mr. Al Jaber was appointed Managing Director of ADNOC, and he attracted private investment by selling stakes in the company’s infrastructure to investors like financial management firms BlackRock and KKR, and by entering into oil and gas exploration agreements with companies such as the American Occidental Petroleum and the Italian Eni. These deals have grossed around $ 26 billion over the past five years, according to Colby Connelly, an analyst at Energy Intelligence, a research firm.
In a signal that the oil giant is ready to adapt to climate needs, ADNOC recently announced that it will join with BP, the British oil company, to build facilities in Britain and the Emirates to produce large volumes. hydrogen, the clean-burning fuel that could be used in the future to power truck fleets or make steel.
Hydrogen could even become a means of replacing oil exports. ADNOC has already shipped hydrogen to Japan, a major customer for Gulf oil in the form of ammonia.