The perfect COP head is the oil honcho al-Jaber

December 2, 2023

COP28 started on Dec. 1. That’s this year’s big international climate conference, the 28th in the series since 1995. Its president is Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber of the host country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He happens to be the head of ADNOC, UAE’s state-owned oil company, as well as of a state-owned renewable energy company.

What is new about admitting that the oil companies (private and state-owned) run the show? Photo: IAEA Imagebank, CC BY 2.0 DEED.

Having an oil executive head the climate talks was a controversial choice—but isn’t it just dropping the pretense? Fossil fuel companies, agribusiness, chemical, and plastic companies, and other capitalists and capitalist organizations tied into the most climate-destructive activities—like producing and burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and intensive industrial farming—have always been lobbying these climate conferences, mostly behind the scenes, and have always had sway with the national governments that are the decision-makers at these events.

COP means conference of the parties, and the parties are the governments that ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. Decisions are made by consensus, giving veto power to the major producers and users of coal, oil, and natural gas, like the U.S., China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That is why fossil fuels were never even mentioned in the texts adopted by these conferences until 2021, and even then it was weasel-worded in the Glasgow Climate Pact from COP26 as calling for “accelerating efforts toward the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” As I pointed out then:

“[W]hat was missing from the Glasgow pact, the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, and in fact everything from the UN climate process, was a complete, rapid elimination of fossil fuel production and use, and the global construction of the infrastructure and other conditions needed to make that feasible without turning numerous countries into sacrifice zones.”


So really what is new about admitting openly that the oil companies (private and state-owned) run the show? Why should we be surprised to learn that internal communications of the organizers of the climate conference were shared with ADNOC? How else was ADNOC supposed to make all the important decisions? Why should we be surprised that UAE would use the climate meetings before and during the conference to make business deals for their oil company?

Al-Jaber argued with a straight face that the oil companies have the expertise, so they must be a part of planning, designing, and implementing the needed energy transition. Various diplomats like John Kerry more or less parroted this argument. It does have a certain logic flowing from the self-defeating nature of a process centered on capitalists and, very directly, on their state powers. This is a logic that flies in the face of the reality.

The reality is that the fossil fuel companies, and the capitalists who run them and benefit from them, and the governments and politicians that kowtow to them, are the enemy of humanity here. They are the ones who pushed the denial of climate change, who pushed delay after delay in combating it or even recognizing it as a crisis, and who are even now obstructing action. With every passing year of minimal action, the built-in inertia toward catastrophe grows, and the magnitude of efforts required to turn around the situation grows. The suffering caused now and in the future by the climate crisis grows, and the sacrifices needed (which are, however, distorted and exaggerated by Big Oil and its ideologues) also grow.


It is imperative to be clear about this, to recognize and communicate it, to take it into account in all our plans: these forces are the enemy of the great majority of humanity. There are two worlds of rulers and ruled in every country, and these forces are part of the class war against most people. The whole idea of “working with” these “experts” is essentially waving a flag of surrender. It is an invitation to the very forces who are killing us to decide whether to keep killing us, how fast, and in what manner that they believe would benefit themselves the most. What is needed is to defeat this enemy, not to beg it to do the right thing, but to remove its power, for the masses to take control of everything it owns and controls, as part of a revolutionary transformation. Nothing less will succeed.

That is the kernel of why the state-centered, oil-soaked process of the UNFCCC and its COPs is bound to divert humanity from real and adequate solutions. The fact is that, despite the heating and destruction that is baked in from emissions already made, it is still not too late to make a huge difference, to pull away from total catastrophe. That would require overturning the class relations and turning society in a new human direction, and that process would improve the lives of the vast majority of humanity in a number of ways.

And that is why Sultan al-Jaber is the perfect person to head COP28.

One thought on “The perfect COP head is the oil honcho al-Jaber

  1. On a very small scale the thing that could work could be if each of us stop buying what is not essential for our existence. The oil company will not do it for us. We have to take action, and this is my solution. They are the most power ful companies of the world, they are the source of power for the system. We may win by our own action, starving them to no existence if they are not already working on that too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *