Azerbaijan taps former oil industry leader to head this year’s climate talks

Al-Jaber, who leads the UAE’s state-run oil company, faced backlash from climate advocates and lawmakers who feared that his connections to the industry created a conflict of interest.

COP28 ended with a broad agreement to transition away from oil, gas and coal, the first time fossil fuels had been mentioned in the final outcome of climate talks over nearly 30 years. But the agreement failed to include language calling for a phase-out of fossil fuels, due in large part to opposition from oil- and gas-reliant countries

Several experts and climate leaders have called for an overhaul of U.N. rules to prevent oil companies from shaping the annual climate conferences.

“Given the enormous conflict of interest, oil industry executives should not be allowed to heavily influence, much less preside over, the summit,” Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist who works at the University of Pennsylvania,
wrote in an op-ed
in the Los Angeles Times last month.

After Babayev’s appointment,
Mann said in a post on X
: “It appears that the @UNFCCC folks REALLY didn’t take to heart our suggestions,” referring to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It’s up to the host country to select the president of the talks, and it’s not unusual for the minister of environment or ecology to be tapped as president-designate. It is unusual for that official to be a veteran oil executive.

That may owe to Azerbaijan’s status as a petrostate, with its economy highly dependent on the production and sale of its fossil fuel resources. Oil and gas supports around 90 percent of the country’s export revenue and finances around 60 percent of its government budget, according to the International Energy Agency.

It is the third oil exporter to host the annual U.N. climate talks after Egypt and the UAE.

Azerbaijan’s deputy foreign minister, Yalchin Rafiyev, will serve as lead negotiator of the talks, which begin in November.

Babayev’s chief of staff, Rashad Allahverdiyev, confirmed the appointments and said countries, observer groups and the U.N. climate secretariat had been notified of the selection.

Babayev, 56, has a degree in political science from Moscow State University and another degree in foreign economic relations from Azerbaijan State University of Economics, according to his profile on the
ministry’s website

During a plenary speech in Dubai, he said Azerbaijan aimed to cut its climate pollution 35 percent by 2030 and 40 percent by 2050. It has also set a goal of increasing its renewable energy capacity to 30 percent of its national energy mix this decade.

“As the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident, we acknowledge the necessity to unite our efforts, catalyze global cooperation and ensure that our actions are aligned with the gravity of the situation,” Babayev said.