When Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator for Rhode Island, was invited to a dinner at the culmination of the COP27 climate talks in Egypt last year, he was expecting to meet some American businessmen in the region.
Instead, to his dismay, the dinner was co-hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce, a powerful lobbying group with ties to the fossil fuel industry.
“The fact that this manoeuvre was pulled at the COP in Sharm el-Sheikh left a pretty sour taste in my mouth,” says Whitehouse, who for nine years gave a weekly speech in the US Senate warning about the impending climate disaster.
So when the host nation for this year’s summit, the United Arab Emirates, appointed oil executive Sultan al-Jaber to the pivotal role of COP28 president, Whitehouse decided he had had enough.
Along with European colleagues, he orchestrated a letter to US president Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, calling on them to press the UAE into replacing Jaber, who is also the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. His leadership, argued more than 100 signatories last week, risked “undermining the negotiations.”
The letter is the most dramatic example yet of a growing blowback against the COP28 presidency from climate experts, lawmakers and humanitarian groups, who fear that the organising team’s ties to the fossil fuel industry will impede progress at this year’s summit in November.
The appointment was “a scandal” and a “perfect example of a conflict of interest,” says Michael Bloss, a German member of the European parliament with the Green Party, who signed the letter. “It’s like putting the tobacco industry in charge of ending smoking.”
Scientists are clear that reducing the production and use of coal, oil and gas is key to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C above preindustrial levels.
But Jaber has instead talked about the need to tackle fossil fuel “emissions,” a distinction that analysts says is out of the industry playbook and implied using carbon capture technology, which is unproven at scale, to prolong the use of the polluting fuels.
The role of COP president is instrumental to the direction and objectives of the annual summit, which brings together world leaders, negotiators, businesses…
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