Fox in the Henhouse
“You’re really going to put the fox in charge of the henhouse?” That’s the question that struck me when I read recently that the United Nations appointed Sultan al-Jabar, a Mideast oil executive, to lead the climate talks this fall in the United Arabs Emirates.
Rightly, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance expressed its outrage at the appointment. But to understand their anger, we need to see climate issues from the perspective of nations most affected by the crisis. For Africa and other nations, climate change is not a topic of debate for politicians sitting in air-conditioned conference rooms. In these nations, climate change means drought, famine, flooding, and often, because of those conditions, disease, forced migration, and war. And all that is happening right now.
The problem with Sultan al-Jabbar’s appointment is not just that he comes from an oil-rich country. The greater insult is that he is an oil executive from such a country. Thus, the fox in the henhouse.
I scratch my head to understand the reaction of John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy. He described al-Jabbar’s appointment as a “terrific choice.” What does Kerry believe is going to happen? Does he honestly think that al-Jabar will have a Damascus Road conversion experience, turn away from the fossil fuel industry, and fall in love with renewable energy?
African climate activists are more skeptical and, I believe, more realistic. Heading up for a UN program is certainly a feather in al-Jabbar’s cap, but at the end of the day, his salary is paid by an oil company. Currently, more investments are made in fossil fuel development in Africa than in renewable energy. A more graphic snapshot of the situation comes from the International Energy Agency. Africa has 60% of the world’s solar resources or potential but only 1% of the solar technology to make use of that resource.
Putting the world’s climate future in the hands of oil companies makes as much sense as handing over the FDA to drug cartels or handing over the security of the US Capital to those convicted of the January 6 insurrection.
Would it not make more sense to offer the leadership of the UN climate agency to representatives of the nations most affected by climate change? Why do nations most vulnerable to the by-products of climate change—drought, disease, hunger, and political instability—have to beg leaders of the richest nations of the world to be heard?
As with all problems, from local to national to global, the people in power determine what steps to take to meet the challenge and what steps not to take. Every dollar spent now in extracting more fossil fuels is not just a dollar that could be spent on renewable energy. Every dollar spent keeping oil companies happy will come at the expense of the health and safety of children—your children, my children, and the world’s children.