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May 22, 2024

Former Oil Executive Tapped to Lead COP29 Climate Talks Sparks Concern

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Jan 5, 2024

Azerbaijan’s appointment of former oil executive Mukhtar Babayev to lead the COP29 climate talks in 2024 has sparked worry among climate activists over potential conflicts of interest. As the host nation, Azerbaijan will set the agenda and priorities for the critical international negotiations aimed at limiting global warming.

Background

Mukhtar Babayev has a long history in Azerbaijan’s lucrative oil industry, having served in high-level positions at the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) for over 15 years. Most recently, he was appointed Ecology Minister of Azerbaijan in 2023.

Azerbaijan is a major oil and gas producer, with the fossil fuel industry accounting for 40% of its economy and 90% of its exports. Reducing reliance on oil and gas poses an economic challenge for the country.

The choice of Babayev to lead COP29 signals Azerbaijan’s continued commitment to fossil fuels amid efforts to transition to clean energy globally. Previous climate talks have struggled to gain commitments from major oil and gas producing nations to move away from hydrocarbons.

Concerns Over Possible Conflicts of Interest

Climate activists have raised alarm bells over Babayev’s background in oil and question his ability to impartially broker an ambitious agreement at COP29.

“Selecting a fossil fuel veteran to lead critical UN climate talks smells like dangerous déjà vu of having polluters dominating these talks,” said Murray Worthy from Global Witness.

“It goes against the very principles these negotiations are built upon and risks undoing the delicate global consensus built over three decades of climate talks.”

There are worries that under Babayev, COP29 will not result in meaningful commitments to slash emissions from Azerbaijan’s energy industry. The country has so far set unambitious climate targets that allow oil and gas output to continue increasing until 2030.

“There could well be conflicts between Azerbaijan’s interests and what the world needs from these climate talks,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and key architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“As the host nation, Azerbaijan must put the global priorities first.”

Country Share of Economy from Oil & Gas
Azerbaijan 40%
Saudi Arabia 50%
Russia 30%
Norway 15%

Table showing oil and gas dependence of Azerbaijan compared to other major producers.

Climate campaigners contrast Azerbaijan’s appointment with the upcoming COP28 talks, which will be led by the United Arab Emirates’ climate envoy and former clean energy executive Sultan al-Jaber.

What’s at Stake in COP29?

2024 is a critical year for international climate action, marking the review of countries’ emissions reduction plans under the Paris Agreement.

COP29 takes place in November in Baku, Azerbaijan after talks in Dubai for COP28. It will assess global progress on climate targets and attempt to ratchet up ambitions from the fossil fuel industry and other major emitters.

Securing commitments from countries to phase down coal, oil, and natural gas will be crucial to keeping warming below 1.5°C this century. Current national plans are estimated to put the world on track for around 2.5°C of heating, which scientists warn would bring catastrophic climate impacts.

Reactions in Azerbaijan

Domestically, the appointment of Babayev has drawn praise from Azerbaijan’s oil and gas industry while concerning local environmental groups:

“Mukhtar Babayev has the leadership needed to navigate complex energy transition challenges,” said Khoshbakht Yusifzade, head of the local oil workers’ union.

However, local activists have raised doubts about his climate commitments:

“Babayev has been vocal about expanding oil production in recent years,” said regional environmental leader Leyla Aliyeva. “It’s difficult to believe he will champion the global fight to rapidly move Beyond Oil and Gas.”

Azerbaijan maintains that Babayev’s energy industry background will aid inclusive discussion on transition planning at COP29:

“Mr. Babayev brings decades of experience that gives him a nuanced, realistic understanding of these issues from all sides,” the government said in a statement.

Still, his appointment means difficult questions over conflicts of interest are likely to dominate COP29 instead of climate progress. Azerbaijan will need to work hard to build trust and reassure observers that the talks will act in global interests instead of its own oil and gas agenda.

The Road to COP29

In the lead up to November’s talks, climate activists will advocate for Azerbaijan to set an ambitious domestic agenda on phasing out fossil fuels, including:

  • Committing to no new oil and gas fields or infrastructure

  • Setting a strategy to wind down existing production in line with 1.5°C

  • Ruling out exploration in contested areas like the Caspian Sea

  • Investing oil and gas revenues into renewable energy and job retraining

These measures would go some way to reassuring civil society groups that Azerbaijan is approaching COP29 negotiations in good faith.

However, any substantive commitments from Azerbaijan before the talks appear unlikely given Babayev’s background and the country’s economic dependence on hydrocarbons.

Instead, COP29 success under his leadership may hinge on global pressure and sideline diplomacy to isolate Azerbaijan if it obstructs progress. The onus will likely fall to other countries to push through ambitious fossil fuel phase down plans.

With both climate impacts and public scrutiny intensifying each year, Azerbaijan risks finding itself diplomatically isolated and economically stranded by a world moving to cut emissions. Its leader at COP29 must recognize it remains in Azerbaijan’s interests to be part of global climate solutions, not obstacles.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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