Advocates recoil as former state oil exec named COP29 president

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Azerbaijani Ecology Minister Mukhtar Babayev, a former executive at the country’s state-owned oil company, will serve as president of the United Nations COP29 climate summit this year, 2023 hosts the United Arab Emirates confirmed.

“We look forward to working alongside the COP29 and COP30 Presidencies, and the UNFCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] to build on the transformative and historic success of COP28 and keep 1.5°C within reach,” the COP28 UAE presidency tweeted.

Babayev’s appointment compounded the existing controversy among environmental advocates over the choice of a petrostate to host the summit for the second year in a row. The UAE’s Sultan al-Jaber, the head of the country’s national oil company, served as president of COP28 in 2023 and sparked backlash after saying there was “no science” behind calls to transition away from fossil fuels. 

Despite this, the summit ended in an agreement to “transition away” from fossil fuels, even as the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries lobbied its members to block such language. 

The announcement of Babayev nonetheless sparked dismay from environmental advocates, who said it would make progress impossible.

“COP28 was run by oil lobbyists, so it’s no surprise that the final agreement committed the world to fossil fuels forever. There’s a sense of déjà vu setting in – we now have a former oil executive from an authoritarian petrostate in charge of the world’s response to the crisis that fossil fuel firms created,” Alice Harrison, Fossil Fuels Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said in a statement Friday.

“We again call for the UNFCCC to urgently intervene and kick big polluters out of climate talks, to ensure the talks are held in good faith, and to remove those people who want to make a profit at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

“It’s more than clear this gathering has been fully co-opted by fossil fuels,” tweeted Tara Houska, founder of the Indigenous climate advocacy group Giniw Collective. “Is directing our energy to fighting over a conference worthwhile?”

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