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The UAE names the head of its main state oil company to lead COP28

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The annual United Nations Climate Conference will be in the United Arab Emirates late this year. The UAE is a major oil producer, but it's also a place battling extreme heat. Today it upset environmentalists by appointing the head of the country's main state oil company to lead the negotiations at COP 28. NPR's Aya Batrawy reports from Dubai.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Environmental activist group Greenpeace says it's deeply alarmed by the UAE's appointment of Sultan al-Jaber to lead this November's global climate conference. Other environmentalists called it a breathtaking conflict of interest and a slap in the face to those suffering from manmade climate disasters. Al-Jaber is head of Abu Dhabi state-owned oil firm ADNOC. But the announcement of his appointment noted at length his background overseeing clean energy projects and his past experience as the UAE's climate change envoy. He's also helping funnel billions of dollars in government investments in carbon capture technologies and energy efficiency projects.

But oil is key to the UAE's economy, allowing its unelected leadership to provide citizens with massive perks, develop the country and expand influence abroad. And Gulf Arab states argue the world still runs on fossil fuels, energy sources that billions of people rely on for their existence. Here's how al-Jaber himself put it last year at an energy forum in Dubai.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SULTAN AL-JABER: We cannot and must not unplug the current energy system before we have built the new one.

BATRAWY: He says even the U.S. and Europe are acknowledging this.

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AL-JABER: Transitions, by definition, take time. And this one will take time.

BATRAWY: But scientists caution countries need to cut carbon emissions now to slow global warming. The International Energy Agency says there should be no new investments in coal plants or oil and gas. Instead, they've called for a massive deployment in clean energy technologies. Al-Jaber disagrees. Here he is again in remarks last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL-JABER: Let's create a clear roadmap that is based on real and solid foundations. Let's adopt policies that strengthen the stability of energy markets. Let's continue to invest in new and future energies. But let's not defund the current energy system.

BATRAWY: While the UAE needs oil, there's also a realization here that the long summers are getting even hotter. It's so dangerous to work outside midday during some months that the government has outlawed it. Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Dubai.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIPSEY HUSSLE SONG, "PERFECT TIMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aya Batrawy