In Davos, a skirmish over the role of oil states at climate talks

(From left) IEA executive director Fatih Birol and climate activists Luisa Neubauer, Helena Gualinga, Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg at the WEF on Jan 19, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

DAVOS, Switzerland – John Kerry on Thursday offered a full-throated defence of the decision to hold this year’s United Nations climate talks in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil producers, suggesting the Gulf state was rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels and would not compromise the integrity of the negotiations.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special climate envoy, said in an interview on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The United Arab Emirates, selected by the United Nations to host the November talks, has faced withering criticism from climate activists over its selection of Sultan al-Jaber, the head of its national oil company, to oversee the climate talks.

Kerry has worked closely with al-Jaber for years and called him a “good friend,” adding that he believed the oil executive “would be a very serious and focused interlocutor on this.”

He added that the United Arab Emirates, a major strategic ally of the United States, was moving rapidly to embrace renewable energy and reduce its planet-warming emissions in agriculture and other areas.

“There’s an advantage to having a petrostate that is actually in the forefront of some of these cutting edge initiatives,” Kerry said. “I think the UAE is serious about it.”

Hours after Kerry spoke, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared in Davos and assailed the choice.

“Lobbyists have been influencing these conferences since basically forever and this puts a very clear face to it,” she said at a news conference, wearing the muddy boots she had on when she was detained by the police while protesting a coal mine in Germany on Tuesday. “It’s completely ridiculous.”

Thunberg was joined by three other young climate activists, Helena Gualinga of Ecuador, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda and Luisa Neubauer of Germany. The four have launched an online petition demanding that energy companies stop new oil, gas and coal projects.

Gualinga dismissed the idea that substantive negotiations over climate action could occur in the United Arab Emirates. “There’s a huge conflict of interest there,” she said. “It sends this message of not taking it seriously.”

The climate protesters were joined at the news conference by Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency. Birol called for a rapid winding down of fossil fuels. NYTIMES

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