UN climate summit in Baku risks being co-opted by fossil fuels again, US lawmakers say

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The major UN climate summit hosted by Azerbaijan this year was at risk of being “co-opted” by the fossil fuel industry, which was the main driver of climate change, a group of leading US Democrats said in a letter to officials. from the White House.

The 26 signatories, including Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jan Schakowsky, said they were “deeply concerned by the appointment of Mukhtar Babayev” as president-designate of the UN COP29 summit. . .

Babayev, Azerbaijan’s Ecology Minister, spent more than two decades at the state oil and gas company Socar before becoming a member of President Aliyev’s cabinet.

The letter, addressed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Biden’s climate envoy John Podesta, stopped short of pushing for Babayev’s ouster but urged the UN to update its conflict of interest guidelines to “ “to ensure that this situation does not happen again.”

It echoes the call by more than 100 US lawmakers and members of the European Parliament last year for the withdrawal of Sultan al-Jaber, head of state oil company Adnoc, as COP28 president-designate.

“When Mr. Babayev is elected, it will be the second year in a row that the COP will be headed by a fossil fuel executive,” the politicians wrote. “Given these conflicts of interest, we risk the process being co-opted by the same fossil fuel industry that is the biggest driver of our climate crisis.”

The UN’s climate change arm introduced rules last year requiring summit delegates to reveal their affiliations. At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists registered for COP28 in Dubai, or four times the attendance at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, after hosts the United Arab Emirates expanded access.

The UN aims to hold smaller meetings after a peak attendance of more than 65,000 people in Dubai. The COP30 summit in 2025 will be held in Brazil.

“Time is running out and this international process is too important for the United States to stand on the sidelines while fossil fuel interests capture yet another negotiation,” the letter said.

COP29 declined to comment. But President Aliyev last month defended Azerbaijan’s fossil fuel-based economy, saying “God-given” gas would be needed for decades to come.

Oil and natural gas generate about 90 percent of its export revenue and finance about 60 percent of its budget, according to figures from the International Energy Agency.

US politicians also raised concerns about human rights issues surrounding COP29 in Baku in November, claiming it had suppressed climate protests last year.

Its leadership has also faced criticism over the recent military takeover of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenia says led to the flight of 100,000 Karabakh Armenians and subsequent detentions.

“(We) find it deeply troubling that countries like Azerbaijan, which persistently flout international human rights law, are chosen to host the conference,” the Democrats said.

The upcoming U.N. climate talks in Bonn in June, a precursor to the main COP event, would be the “first key test of Azerbaijan’s leadership,” said Tom Evans, climate diplomacy leader at consulting group E3G.

“Each country must present a new climate transition plan to the UN next year,” he noted. “To lead by example, they can prioritize climate over oil and gas interests by publishing their own plan to keep warming at 1.5°C and move away from fossil fuels, as the world agreed to do at COP28.” .

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