More than two dozen members of Congress have called on top U.S. climate diplomat John Kerry to push the United Arab Emirates to replace Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as president-designate of the United Nations COP28 meeting set to begin this November.
In a Friday letter to Kerry, 27 U.S. lawmakers wrote that "the decision to name the chief executive of one of the world's largest oil and gas companies as president of the next U.N. Climate Change Conference risks jeopardizing climate progress."
The U.A.E.'s move earlier this month to appoint al-Jaber as leader of the upcoming round of international climate negotiations has been widely condemned. So too has Kerry's celebration of the pick as "a terrific choice."
Led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the lawmakers wrote: "To help ensure that COP28 is a serious and productive climate summit, we believe the United States should urge the United Arab Emirates to name a different lead for COP28 or, at a minimum, seek assurances that it will promote an ambitious COP28 aligned with the 1.5°C limit and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings and take concrete steps to demonstrate domestic and regional leadership toward this end."
"Having a fossil fuel champion in charge of the world's most important climate negotiations would be like having the CEO of a cigarette conglomerate in charge of global tobacco policy."
Like the 26 annual U.N. climate gatherings that preceded it, COP27 ended last November with no commitment to a swift and just global phase-out of oil, gas, and coal. Despite scientists' repeated warnings that expanding fossil fuel production will intensify the deadly impacts of the climate emergency, hundreds of corporations—including several based in the U.S. and the U.A.E.—are planning to ramp up planet-heating pollution in the years ahead.
Progressive critics have connected the dots between policymakers' ongoing failure to directly confront the fossil fuel industry—whose drive to maximize short-term profits is putting the future of humanity at risk—and Big Oil's corrupting influence at U.N. climate talks. While climate justice activists were heavily policed throughout the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt during COP27, more than 630 fossil fuel lobbyists were granted access to the meeting.
In their letter to Kerry, members of Congress argued that allowing al-Jaber to preside over debates about the scale and pace of decarbonization threatens to exacerbate this untenable situation, leading to further delays in needed climate action.
"The appointment of an oil company executive to head COP28 poses a risk to the negotiation process as well as the whole conference itself," wrote the lawmakers. "Having a fossil fuel champion in charge of the world's most important climate negotiations would be like having the CEO of a cigarette conglomerate in charge of global tobacco policy. It risks undermining the very essence of what is trying to be accomplished."
"Future COPs should require any participating company to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement that discloses climate-related lobbying, campaign contributions, and funding of trade associations and organizations active on energy and climate issues," they continued.
"COPs should not provide a stage for greenwashing," the members of Congress added. "They should be convenings for serious climate actors and actions. Such commonsense reforms to help restore public faith in the COP process will obviously be impossible with an oil company executive at the helm."
Signatories include Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.).
The lawmakers' letter to Kerry came one day after a global network of more than 450 climate justice organizations wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres that "no COP overseen by a fossil fuel executive can be seen as legitimate."