Oil billionaire Mukesh Ambani and famed activist Sunita Narain are both on the COP28 board

Image:  RULA ROUHANA (Reuters)
Image: RULA ROUHANA (Reuters)

The UAE has appointed 31 people to the advisory board for the upcoming COP28 climate summit. The group represents a mix of former executives of oil companies, climate campaigners, energy experts, and corporate leaders such as BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink and Siemens’s supervisory board chairman Joe Kaeser.

Two Indians sit on the board, embodying the polar opposites of the struggle against climate change. One of the advisors is Sunita Narain, a famed environmentalist, but the UAE has also picked Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire chairman of India’s largest private firm, Reliance Industries, which comprises a thriving oil business. Reliance is among the biggest producer of petrochemicals in India and among the top 10 in the world.

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And while Ambani has announced a transition towards a green energy future, he still isn’t ready to divest from the petrochemical sector. Last year, at an annual investors’ summit at Reliance, the billionaire announced a multi-billion dollar plan to expand its footprint in the oil industry.

Here’s who will be advising COP28's president


COP28's oil and gas ties spark controversy

The UAE is hosting COP28 in Dubai in November and picked Sultan Al Jaber, the head of the country’s state-owned oil and gas company Adnoc, to be the summit’s president.

The fact that the newly appointed advisory board features current oil executives including Ambani and Crescent Petroleum president Badr Jafar, and former oil and gas executives such as BP’s Bob Dudley and China Petrochemical Corporation’s Fu Chengyu, is adding to criticism from environmental activists.

“While there has clearly been an effort to make the advisory committee inclusive and diverse, it is deeply concerning to see oil and gas interests being consulted on how to run negotiations to phase out their products,” Oil Change International campaigner Romain Ioualalen told Climate Home.

Unfazed by the criticism, some controversial appointees have defended their involvement with climate change negotiations. Jeffrey Ubben, who’s on the board of American oil and gas producer ExxonMobil, has previously stated that there could be a way to decarbonize fossil fuels rather than to stop its use completely.

“If you think about Exxon’s role, it’s to do the hard stuff, and you cannot get to net zero without doing the hard stuff,” Ubben told CNBC upon his appointment to Exxon’s board in April 2021, adding: “To use the existing infrastructure and capture the carbon is probably the least expensive and quickest way to net zero.”

COP28 is poised to focus on carbon capture technology as a way to lower the emissions from oil and gas production. The UN’s former climate chief and one of the architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, Christiana Figueres, criticized that approach as “very dangerous” earlier this month.

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