Stockholm (NordSIP) – With Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company at the helm for the upcoming COP28 climate conference in Dubai, and fossil fuel producing Gulf states seemingly spending millions on sustainability-related marketing and sports sponsorship, NordSIP’s Laundromat was keen to spend some time in this alternative universe within which the world’s very worst polluters are the ones to lead us towards a wonderful, carbon-free Utopia. With that in mind, we signed up to attend the Priority Summit organised by the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Institute in Miami, USA. We attended virtually of course, with NordSIP’s carbon footprint in mind.
The conference tagline is: “A Roadmap for Humanity in Challenging Times,” and the organisers state: “We at FII Institute have ESG deeply embedded in the fibre of our identity.” That all sounds excellent. The FII Institute is a non-profit organisation set up by Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF). The opening address is made by FII CEO Richard Attias, who is also a former executive producer of the Davos World Economic Forum, following which H.E. Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Governor of the Saudi PIF and FII Chairman is quizzed alongside Mayor of Miami Francis X. Suarez by a Goldman Sachs executive called Dina Powell McCormick. The session is billed as: “In Conversation – A Dream Reimagined.” Suarez spends some time pitching Maimi as the new global and cultural hub, which is definitely better than New York in his view. Given that Florida has effectively banned ESG from all aspects of public life, Miami might appear an odd choice as the epicentre for the forum’s stated aim of designing a progressive roadmap for humanity.
Let’s hear it for oil and gas
After a couple of brief references to Saudi Arabia’s investment in renewables, Al-Rumayyan returns to more familiar territory. He lauds the USD 161 billion profit achieved over the past year by the State oil company Aramco – also one of the strategic partners of the conference. “Oil and gas are not such a bad thing,” he says, going on to explain why we need to invest in further fossil fuel exploration. European nations are too driven by ideology, he says, and should think carefully of the consequences of moving away from oil and gas too quickly. Al-Rumayyan describes how Saudi Arabia is working with car manufacturers to improve the fuel efficiency and emissions of the internal combustion engine, which according to him is a much better strategy than what he calls the bullying approach of the Europeans. He does not offer up any concrete examples of this technological co-operation with car producers. Finally, Al-Rumayyan hails Aramco as the lowest emitting oil company in the world, although this refers solely to Scope 1 and 2 emissions, not the greenhouse gases produced when burning the company’s average daily output of 13.6 million barrels of oil. He does not directly address the causes and effects of the climate crisis.
Gallery of rogues
A panel session on financing the energy transition features Steve Shallenberger, CEO of Rivotto. He enthuses about the wonders of fossil energy and pitches his firm’s fuel additive chemicals as the solution. This being an opinion piece, Laundromat would like to use that as a cue to step away from reviewing the content of this ongoing event, which is so far characterised by a complete absence of challenging questioning and rather impressive levels of sycophancy. It is perhaps far more interesting to peruse the list of speakers, which might be a better indicator of the genuine agenda behind this event.
There is Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is the subject of renewed inquiries regarding a USD 2 billion Saudi investment into his private equity fund. Fellow speaker and former Trump administration Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has also been the subject of similar allegations. Other speakers on the roster include former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose cosy personal and financial relationship with the Saudis was also a cause for controversy. Renzi currently sits on the FII Institute’s advisory board. We also have Bob Diamond, who left his role as Barclays CEO following the Libor scandal as well as senior representatives from various other investment firms and family offices. Despite the presence of a Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) representative, few of the banks involved in the conference can claim convincing sustainability credentials.
The Laundromat sincerely hopes that some good will come out of this conference. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia clearly has the financial resources to implement widespread positive change if it so wishes. However, does it truly have the desire and commitment to effectively kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? Is an autocratic dictatorship really suited to guide the world towards some sort of low-carbon utopia? The Priority Forum continues until March 31st, so there may still be time for them to spring a surprise. We live in hope.