‘Bad case of déjà vu’: Oil industry veteran to lead next round of UN climate talks in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan’s Minister for ecology and natural resources and formerly an executive at state oil company SOCAR Mukhtar Babayev (C) visits at the Norm cement plant in Baku, on February 23, 2023. Azerbaijan named on January 5, 2024, Mukhtar Babayev minister to preside over the November 2024 COP29 meeting, in Baku, on January 6, 2024.

Tofik Babayev | Afp | Getty Images

A former executive of Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil and gas firm SOCAR has been picked to lead U.N. climate talks in Baku later this year, prompting critics to decry a “bad case of déjà vu.”

Mukhtar Babayev, who serves as Azerbaijan’s ecology and natural resources minister, was named Thursday by the COP28 United Arab Emirates presidency as the COP29 president-designate.

Babayev will take over from Sultan Al-Jaber, who was seen as a controversial choice to lead COP28 talks in Dubai late last year given that he also works as the head of the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

It means that a minister with vast experience in oil and gas will lead negotiations at the U.N.’s biggest and most important annual climate conference for the second consecutive year. The COP29 conference is scheduled to take place in Baku in November.

Little is known about Babayev, although he spent more than 24 years working at Azerbaijan’s state oil firm SOCAR in a variety of roles through to April 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Campaign group Global Witness said Babayev’s appointment as the person to lead COP29 discussions was a “bad case of déjà vu.”

“We now have a former oil executive from an authoritarian petrostate in charge of the world’s response to the crisis that fossil fuel firms created,” Alice Harrison, fossil fuels campaign leader at Global Witness, said Friday in a statement.

“We again call for the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] to urgently intervene and kick big polluters out of climate talks, to ensure the talks are held in good faith, and to remove those people who want to make a profit at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable people,” Harrison said.

Spokespersons for Azerbaijan’s government and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change were not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC.

Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bekir Pakdemirli (L) meets Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan Mukhtar Babayev (R) in Baku, Azerbaijan on March 17, 2021.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

Separately, Collin Rees of Oil Change International, an advocacy group, described Babayev’s appointment as “outrageous” and “deeply worrying.”

“We need a shift away from the business-as-usual threatening lives and wrecking the climate, but Azerbaijan appointing another lifelong oil man to lead the next UN climate talks pushes us closer to the abyss,” Rees said Friday in a statement.

Climate finance

U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell welcomed Babayev’s appointment, saying in a letter that he hoped the COP29 president-designate and Azerbaijan Deputy Foreign Minister Yalchin Rafiyev, the lead negotiator of the talks, would deliver a “successful” climate summit.

Teresa Anderson, global lead on climate justice at ActionAid International, a development charity, said Monday in reaction to Babayev’s appointment as COP29 president-in-waiting that the role of any COP president is to steer world leaders in the right direction.

“Babayev’s priority, starting today, must be to ensure that the world’s growing appetite for climate action is matched by the necessary funding,” Anderson said in a statement.

“COP29 needs to deliver the finance desperately needed to make the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy,” she added.

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