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Oil giant led by COP28 boss to spend an ‘eyewatering’ $1 billion a month on fossil fuels this decade, Global Witness says

Sultan Al Jaber, chief executive of the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and president of this year’s COP28 climate summit gestures during an interview as part of the 7th Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA) in Brussels on July 13, 2023.

Francois Walschaerts | Afp | Getty Images

UAE oil giant ADNOC — run by the president of the COP28 climate conference — is expected to spend more than $1 billion every month this decade on fossil fuels, according to new analysis by international NGO Global Witness.

This is nearly seven times higher than its commitment to decarbonization projects over the same timeframe, the research says.

ADNOC, which recently became the first among its peers to bring forward its net-zero ambition to 2045, disputes Global Witness’ analysis and says the assumptions made are inaccurate.

It comes ahead of the COP28 climate summit, with Dubai set to host the U.N.’s annual conference from Nov. 30 through to Dec. 12. Viewed as one of the most significant climate conferences since 2015’s landmark Paris Agreement, COP28 will see global leaders gather to discuss how to progress in the fight against the climate crisis.

The person overseeing the talks, Sultan al-Jaber, is chief executive of ADNOC (the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) — one of the world’s largest oil and gas firms. His position as both COP28 president and ADNOC CEO caused dismay among civil society groups and U.S. and EU lawmakers, although several government ministers have since defended his appointment.

Global Witness’ analysis, provided exclusively to CNBC, found that ADNOC is planning to spend an average of $1.14 billion a month on oil and gas production alone between now and 2030 — the same year in which the U.N. says the world must cut emissions by 45% to avoid global catastrophe.

It means that ADNOC is forecast to spend nearly seven times more on fossil fuels through to 2030 than it does on “low-carbon solution” projects.

By 2050, the year in which the U.N. says the entire world economy must achieve net-zero emissions, ADNOC is projected to have invested $387 billion in oil and gas. The burning of fossil fuels is the chief driver of the climate emergency.

A spokesperson at ADNOC told CNBC via email: “The analysis of, and assumptions made, regarding ADNOC’s capital expenditure program beyond the company’s current five-year business plan (2023 to 2027) are speculative and therefore incorrect.”

The Abu Dhabi energy group announced in January this year that it would allocate $15 billion for investment in “low-carbon solutions” by 2030, including investments in clean power, carbon capture and storage and electrification projects.

High-rise tower buildings along the central Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai on July 3, 2023.

Karim Sahib | Afp | Getty Images

Global Witness arrived at its projections by analyzing ADNOC’s forecasted oil and gas capital expenditure, exploratory capital expenditure and operational expenditure for the period from 2023 to 2050. The data was sourced from Rystad Energy’s UCube database.

Rystad’s data is not available to the public, but is widely used and referenced by major oil and gas companies and international bodies.

“Fossil fuels companies like to burnish their green credentials, yet they rarely say the quiet part out loud: that they continue to throw eyewatering amounts at the same old polluting oil and gas that is accelerating the climate crisis,” said Patrick Galey, senior investigator at Global Witness.

“How [al-Jaber] can expect to lecture other nations on the need to decarbonise and be taken seriously is anyone’s guess, while he continues to provide vastly more funding to oil and gas than to renewable alternatives,” he added.

“He is a fossil fuel boss, plain and simple, saying one thing while his company does the other,” Galey said.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the analysis conducted by Global Witness. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC.

Main priority for COP28

Al-Jaber was the founding CEO of Abu Dhabi state-owned renewable energy firm Masdar, which works in more than 40 countries worldwide and has invested in or committed to invest in renewable energy projects with a total value of over $30 billion.

Speaking earlier this year, al-Jaber said the main priority for the COP28 summit will be to keep alive the fight to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond the critical temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, it becomes more likely that small changes can trigger dramatic shifts in Earth’s entire life support system.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has brought forward its net-zero target by 5 years

The International Energy Agency says no new oil, gas or coal development is compatible with the goal of curbing global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In response to a request for comment from CNBC, an ADNOC spokesperson said that energy demand is increasing as the world’s population is expanding. “All of the current energy transition scenarios, including by the IEA, show that some level of oil and gas will be needed into the future,” the spokesperson said.

“As such, it is important that, in addition to accelerating investments in renewables and lower carbon energy solutions, we consider the least carbon intensive sources of oil and gas and further reduce their intensity to enable a fair, equitable, orderly, and responsible energy transition. This is the approach ADNOC is taking,” they added.

The spokesperson said its 2022 upstream emissions data confirmed the energy group as one of the least carbon-intensive producers worldwide. The company will seek to further reduce its carbon intensity by 25% and target near zero methane emissions by 2030, they added.

“As we reduce our emissions, we are also ramping up investments in renewables and zero carbon energies like hydrogen for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

A separate report published in April last year by Global Witness and Oil Change International found that 20 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies were projected to spend $932 billion by the end of the decade to develop new oil and gas fields.

At that time, Russian state company Gazprom was estimated to spend the most on fossil fuel development and exploration projects through to 2030 ($139 billion), followed by U.S. oil majors ExxonMobil ($84 billion) and Chevron ($67 billion).

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