Can COP28 chief teach world leaders to lead by example?

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC), pauses while speaking during the Bloomberg Capital Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Adnoc is OPEC’s third-biggest oil producer and pumps most of the United Arab Emirates’ crude.


Sultan Al Jaber is a dashing figure who has the respect of world leaders and who knows how to deal with climate change. But can the old smoothie set an example on how the COP events themselves are organised, or will that leave him flying too close to the sun?


On the face of it, if we are boil down the basics of climate change and its challenges in the coming years, the main issue to tackle – reducing the earth’s temperature buy only 1.5 percent – seems hardly herculean. In truth, that isn’t though the main obstacle to saving the planet, but more to get governments and industry together to embrace the challenge and, ideally, even make money out of it. Yes, that’s right. You read correctly, if the world is going to save itself from its own pollution, the saddest reality is that it will be companies looking to make money, associated with state-owned entities which are looking to win votes for incumbent government in the West, which will be the silver bullet. Add to that the ‘save the planet’ western elites which make up the COP meetings each year also need to understand that their meetings themselves are burning a bigger hole in the O-zone as they arrive on private jets from all over the world with their entourages, trying to pull off the ultimate bluff that theirs is a greater cause.

No one understands the commercial incentive argument about driving climate change reform on a global level and no one is probably better qualified to drive that formula past the winning line than Sultan Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates which is the host country of the next COP meeting in November of this year. Jaber is a smooth operator whose elan has got him noticed around the world. He is as comfortable in his traditional garb shooting the breeze with Arab heads of state as he is in tailored suits mooching about with the UN secretary general or John Kerry.

Sultan Al Jaber is a dashing figure


And his job for the post should not be dismissed, given that come environmentalists even laughed when it was announced due to Jaber being an oil tycoon. Controversy may well be just what the doctor ordered to jump start a new debate which engages everyone with the “challenges” ahead (a word he uses a lot). Jaber is indeed the poacher turned gamekeeper in that he, it could be argued, has both feet separately straddled in two industries which the tree huggers would say is a conflict of interest.

The Emirati, while having a financial stake in oil production, also has a stake in the clean energy industry through Masdar, which aims to generate 100 gigawatts of renewable energy by the end of the decade, a target that exceeds those set by some major European countries, recalls Bloomberg.

In many ways, an executive with Jaber’s track record, in a country so dynamic as the UAE, should be exactly what the COP meetings need. Jaber is someone who can present themselves to the industry fat cats and push cleaner energy as a winning investment. Who better to do that that someone who pulls off the precipitous balancing act of drawing a fat check from both?

According to Bloomberg, he aims to develop clean energy sufficient to phase out fossil fuels and “do it in a way that strengthens economies and raises the standard of living, through policies that are pro-growth and pro-climate at the same time”, he explains.

The recent editorial was very kind to Jaber and indeed to the UAE which it points out is a world leader in tackling climate change head on. It’s hardly surprising. Much about Jaber is cool. Even his name, if you say it often, sounds like Jagger.

And so while most are impressed with the young Jaber and his jumping jack flash credentials, even at previous COP meetings, some might worry that his ghusto might burn himself out when he realises that another challenge is to engage the masses rather than just the elites. The entourages which involve in some cases,  dozens of bullet proof limos have a real impact on how climate change is viewed by humble people around the world.



The perception is that these COP events are really all about just talking. And talking. And a big part of it is being seen at the prestigious event – a talk shop – without having anything really relevant to say. Meanwhile the same enviro-mentalists have grabbed the window to connect with the millions of blue collar workers by pointing out the environmental abuse that the entourages do. The elitism stinks. Why can’t the events themselves start by leading by example? Someone as young and as enigmatic as Jabel could take it upon himself to suggest to world leaders to ditch the entourages and bring just one assistant. A country like the UAE could easily handle the security challenges and from day one they’ve gained the trust of the public by taking the whole exercise seriously. The problem with the entourages is they turn people off and no one takes the events of the messages seriously. Jabel could push for a reduction first to ditch the whole entourage thing and for world leaders to fly in on commercial flights. This might not make him very popular with Biden or Macron, who might take exception at such a idea. But the gains are there and few will worry about this rising star flying too close to the sun like Icuras, in Greek mythology, whose waxed wings melted due to his carelessness. Today, Icuras wouldn’t even get off the ground.

The author is an award winning journalist based in Morocco, working for a number of international titles while also the editor in chief of He can be followed on twitter at @MartinRJay 

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