Anger as oil and gas industry veteran chosen to lead next Cop climate talks

‘A dangerous and very unwelcome pattern is developing – the oil industry capture of the COP process,’ says Green Party co-leader

Jane Dalton
Friday 05 January 2024 20:42 GMT
Related video: Last year’s talks went into overtime

A veteran of the fossil fuel industry has been appointed to lead the world’s next round of climate emergency negotiations, prompting dismay among environmentalists.

Mukhtar Babayev spent more than 24 years working in Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (Socar), according to his LinkedIn profile.

Last year there was widespread anger at the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, to head the climate talks in Dubai.

Mukhtar Babayev spoke at Cop28 in Dubai
Mukhtar Babayev spoke at Cop28 in Dubai (AP)

Ending the burning of fossil fuels is seen as vital to keeping global temperature rises under 1.5C and averting the worst effects, such as drought, floods and devastation of food production.

The Azerbaijani government appointed Mr Babayev, its ecology and natural resources minister, as president of the United Nations Cop29 talks that are due to be held in Baku in November.

Scientists and climate campaigners expressed disappointment at the appointment.

Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer told The Independent: “A dangerous and very unwelcome pattern is developing with this latest planned appointment – the oil industry capture of the COP process.

“COP works because it brings together governments, the people most impacted by climate change and non-governmental organisations.

“Consensus and actions to combat climate change have been hard won. This is at risk if we allow COP to be taken over and run in the interests of the very people who are creating and profiting from the crisis.”

University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann wrote on social media that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change had not taken to heart scientists’ call last year for oil industry executives to not be allowed to exert heavy influence over – much less lead – annual climate negotiations.

However, according to a leaked 2008 telegram from the US Azeri ambassador to the US government, Mr Babayev’s approach put him at odds with Socar’s “grand old man”, a company chief.

He wanted to alter how his company developed its resources, the document shows, saying he had to change its attitude to the environment, ensuring it preserved the environment while fulfilling its mission to develop Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbon resources.

He said Socar was trying to establish a master plan for cleaning-up the Absheron Peninsula, devastated by oil and chemicals production, and that his mission was to "change the mentality" of Azerbaijanis over their responsibilities to preserve the environment.

Azerbaijan, which is rich in fossil fuels, has an estimated 2.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves, according to a 2021 BP review, and is aiming to double gas exports to Europe by 2027.

At last year’s Dubai talks, an 11th-hour accord was struck calling for the first time for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”.

But some environmentalists condemned it for failing to set out detailed plans to cut fossil fuel use and keep global warming below 1.5C.

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