Sultan Ahmed al Jaber wears two hats, and both come with tremendous responsibilities.
As chief executive of state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), he has been tasked with scaling up the emirate’s oil production capacity to 5 million barrels per day by 2030 and commercialising some sour gas fields that have been left undeveloped for years.
At the same time, al Jaber — a close confidante of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed — serves as the United Arab Emirates' Minister of Industry & Advanced Technology and has been designated as the nation’s special envoy for climate change, representing the UAE in the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26.
The dual role puts 48-year-old al Jaber in the curious position of promoting the UAE as a regional leader in the low-carbon energy transition while continuing with strategic investments in the upstream oil and gas sector.
The UAE was the first Persian Gulf nation to highlight its net-zero ambition by 2050 and has announced billions of dollars in clean-energy investments.
Al Jaber is spearheading the UAE’s climate campaign, and the nation recently offered to be the official host of the COP28 conference, rooting for the coveted climate event to be held in Abu Dhabi in 2023.
His twin roles may appear contradictory but al Jaber is looking at green energy as a “unique opportunity” in the emirate, with aims for Adnoc to be the Middle East's leading low-carbon producer with a diversified portfolio of energy assets.
Al Jaber, speaking at a recent Saudi climate conference, said: “The world needs practical solutions that are commercial and scalable, and COP26 provides a timely platform to shift gears.”
After the highs of the Paris agreement, “political climate action has slowed, even as investment in renewables has risen and the world has experienced a series of climate-related weather events”, he said.
“It is evident that COP26 needs to start shifting the goals towards an action-oriented approach.”
Such an active approach could enable “the opportunity of the energy transition, which is to use the wave of investment in low-carbon solutions to drive economic prosperity”, he said.
Al Jaber has stressed the need for a flexible approach to meeting the global climate challenge that allows for different strategies in different countries.
“The world needs an umbrella approach with flexibility under which each country can have its own path to lower emissions,” he said, adding that “progress at COP26, COP27, and COP28 will be all about having an inclusive approach that brings all sectors — public, private, academic and civil society — together”.
As Adnoc chief executive, al Jaber has transformed the company over the years, integrating its multiple business lines and optimising some of the emirate’s largest development projects, with substantial associated cost savings.
Recent success with IPO offerings for Adnoc subsidiaries, including Adnoc Drilling and Fetriglobe, has made him even more central to the company's long-term ambitions.
He has set a goal of decreasing Adnoc’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 25% by 2030.
The company recently signed a “landmark” agreement with compatriot Emirates Water & Electricity Company that will see the state-owned giant utilise the latter’s clean energy resources from next year.
Adnoc said it will emerge as the “first major oil and gas company to decarbonise its power at scale through a clean power agreement”.
Al Jaber is also focusing on the emerging hydrogen market and Adnoc has announced multiple initiatives this year to ramp up hydrogen infrastructure in the UAE.
He has called for a pragmatic approach to cleaner energy while warning of potential energy supply crises, and believes that oil and gas investments are still needed for global energy security.
The current energy crunch is a result of long-term underinvestment in traditional fuels, he said, and investment in carbon-efficient hydrocarbons "must continue, to avoid supply shocks during the energy transition”.
Al Jaber said the world sleepwalked into a supply crunch after a serious reduction in investment in hydrocarbons in the past seven to eight years.
"This consistent underinvestment makes the world vulnerable to supply shocks when the unexpected strikes, or when a number of events happen at the same time,” he noted.
He said that more than 80% of the global energy system is presently dependent on fossil fuels, and around 55% is still oil and gas, which signifies that “oil and gas will continue to play an important role in meeting the world’s need for energy”.