UAE’s oil firm chief to head country’s COP28 efforts

The UAE has appointed Sultan Ahmed al‑Jaber, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC, the state hydrocarbons firm), to lead the annual COP28 international climate change summit that will take place in Dubai in late 2023. The choice is consistent with the UAE government’s stance that it can combine the role of a champion of clean energy and emissions reduction—domestically and through investments abroad—with that of an expanding oil and gas producer.

Mr Jaber is also the UAE’s federal climate change envoy and a former chief executive of Masdar, the Abu Dhabi government’s clean energy company. The UAE has the highest regional uptake of renewable energy and an ambitious domestic net-zero emissions target of 2050. However, critics have pointed to Mr Jaber’s leadership of ADNOC, which is in the midst of expanding the UAE’s oil production capacity by 25%, to 5m barrels/day by 2027. ADNOC has also pushed forward with major gas capacity plans, announcing progress on contracting major sour gas projects at two giant fields, Hail and Ghasha, in mid‑January.

The UAE plans to use its vast, predominantly oil-generated wealth to become a leading global investor in clean energy, primarily through Masdar, which aims to have 100 GW of renewables capacity worldwide by 2030. UAE policymakers are working on the basis that the country can be both a major hydrocarbons producer—contending that hydrocarbons will be needed for several more decades—and a champion of decarbonisation. Masdar is also spearheading government plans to become a major producer of low-carbon hydrogen, which is seen as a likely longer-term alternative to hydrocarbons-sourced energy. ADNOC became the main shareholder in Masdar’s green hydrogen business in December and is working with state and private firms in several European and Asian countries to develop blue and green hydrogen supply chains.

The UAE will seek to decarbonise the production process; in January ADNOC announced that by 2030 it would invest US$15bn, including in carbon sequestration and renewable power usage, to reduce the carbon intensity of its operations. However, this is dwarfed by the firm’s US$150bn overall hydrocarbons capital expenditure programme for 2023‑27.

What next?

The UAE is expected to make the reducing the carbon footprint of oil and gas output, rather than eliminating such production, a major theme at COP28. Abu Dhabi aims to take a global lead in this area, seeking to preserve long-term demand for hydrocarbons as decarbonisation gains a higher global profile. Government entities will continue to invest heavily in clean energy production overseas, to diversify long-term revenue streams, improve the UAE’s international reputation and build geopolitical influence.

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