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UAE holds annual oil and gas conference ahead of UN COP28

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The United Arab Emirates is holding an annual oil and gas conference just ahead of hosting United Nations COP28 climate talks in Dubai.

The Emirati president-designate of the upcoming UN COP28 called on oil and gas companies on Monday to be “central to the solution” to fighting climate change, even as the industry boosts its production to enjoy rising global energy prices.

The call by Sultan al-Jaber highlights the gap between climate activists suspicious of his industry ties and his calls to drastically slash the world’s emissions by nearly half in seven years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial times.

“That is our North Star. It is in fact our only destination,” al-Jaber said. “It is simply acknowledging and respecting the science.”

However, he added: “We must do this while also ensuring human prosperity by meeting the energy needs of the planet’s growing population.”

Al-Jaber serves as the CEO of the state-run Abu Dhabi Oil Co., which has the capacity to pump 4 million barrels of crude oil a day and hopes to reach 5 million barrels a day. He also made the call to the annual Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, which brings together the largest players in the oil and gas industries.

While this year’s conference has been described as focusing on “decarbonising faster together,” the event is primarily about the drilling, processing, and sale of the same carbon-belching fuels driving climate change — which cause more intense and more frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires. And al-Jaber himself has repeatedly said the world must rely on oil and gas for the near term to bridge that gap.

“A phase-down of fossil fuels is inevitable and essential,” al-Jaber said. “Yet, this must be part of a comprehensive energy transition plan that is fair, that is fast, just, orderly, equitable, and responsible.”

But on the business side, the oil industry is on the rebound. After prices briefly went negative during the lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic, benchmark Brent crude now trades around USD92 a barrel. Diesel prices also are expected to rise as Russia has stopped its exports of the fuel, which likely will worsen global inflation by boosting transportation prices that will get passed onto consumers.

The conference highlights the challenge the United Arab Emirates has faced in trying to convince already-critical climate scientists, activists, and others that it can host the UN Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name.

Though all smiles at Monday’s conference, al-Jaber has acknowledged the withering criticism he’s faced. On Saturday, he offered a full-throated defence of his country hosting the talks he’s slated to lead, dismissing critics who “just go on the attack without knowing anything, without knowing who we are.”

“For too long, this industry has been viewed as part of the problem, that it’s not doing enough and in some cases even blocking progress,” al-Jaber told the conference. “This is your opportunity to show the world that, in fact, you are central to the solution.”

Following immediately after al-Jaber, OPEC Secretary-General Haitham al-Ghais praised his speech and defended the oil industry.

“We see calls to stop investing in oil. We believe this is counterproductive,” al-Ghais said. “The cornerstone of global economic prosperity is energy security.”

Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 President-Designate and UAE’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, talks during the Climate Future Week at Museum of the Future in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Saturday. PHOTO: AP

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