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Leak Shows UAE Planned to Use COP28 Climate Talks to Strike Fossil Fuel Deals

“[I]t looks ever more like a fox is guarding the hen house,” one climate advocate said.

Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), CEO of state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and COP28 President-designate, stands at the 14th Petersberg Climate Dialogue at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany, on May 2, 2023.

The United Arab Emirates, the host of this year’s UN climate conference COP28, has covertly conspired to use the global gathering as a place to strike fossil fuel deals with other countries and lobby for oil and gas, a damning investigation finds.

According to reporting by the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) and BBC, Sultan al-Jaber — who is both the president of COP28 and CEO of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) — sought to use the conference as an opportunity to increase ADNOC’s oil and gas exports. Al-Jaber has spent the last months meeting with global and business leaders, with at least one country allegedly following up on a discussion on business related to ADNOC.

Leaked documents that were purportedly used by the COP28 team to prepare al-Jaber for these meetings include a number of talking points to advance the business interests of ADNOC and UAE state-owned renewable energy company Masdar, of which al-Jaber is chairman.

The documents show a number of ADNOC-related “potential discussion areas” with different countries’ leaders seeking to advance ADNOC’s liquid natural gas (LNG) business. For at least 13 countries, including Germany, the talking points include directly requesting discussions with ADNOC over developing fossil fuel projects.

For discussions with several countries and representatives, the documents instruct leaders to emphasize LNG as an important tool in reducing emissions — repeating a longtime Big Oil lie that is climate friendly, ignoring its strong climate-warming emissions, especially of methane. “LNG remains a key building block in lower carbon energy systems and roadmaps,” a suggestion for talks with Germany reads.

Other suggestions are direct in the goal to lobby for ADNOC. “ADNOC growth will further support energy security and we are willing to jointly evaluate international LNG opportunities (Mozambique, Canada and Australia),” the document says, under a section on talking points with China.

Leaked emails between COP28 staff seen by CCR and BBC reporters, meanwhile, said that ADNOC and Masdar talking points “always need to be included” in briefings for meetings with world leaders.

Climate advocates reacted with horror to the documents. “Sultan al-Jaber claims his inside knowledge of the fossil fuel industry qualifies him to lead a crucial climate summit but it looks ever more like a fox is guarding the hen house,” Amnesty International climate advisor Ann Harrison told BBC.

“Our calls on Sultan Al Jaber to step down from his role at ADNOC if he wishes to lead a successful summit remain valid,” Harrison continued. “Documents suggesting he was briefed to advance business interests in COP meetings only fuel our concerns that COP28 has been comprehensively captured by the fossil fuel lobby to serve its vested interests that put the whole of humanity at risk.”

Each year, COP conferences are held by the UN with the goal of gathering world leaders to discuss the global threat of the climate crisis and limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Host countries appoint a president to lead that year’s talks. The decision to appoint al-Jaber has been heavily criticized by climate groups, who have been calling for him to step down from the role due to a clear conflict of interest with his leadership of ADNOC.

COP28 officials have denied the validity of the leaked documents and emails. However, CCR’s report pointed out that at least one other key COP28 official, director of government affairs Mohammed al-Kaabi, has reportedly worked at ADNOC, raising serious questions about ADNOC’s influence in the organizing of the conference.

As the head of COP28, al-Jaber has extensive access to world leaders that he wouldn’t otherwise have, one foreign official who has been in such meetings told CCR. “Do you think he would be meeting heads of state as he’s been doing without his COP28 hat? Hardly likely,” the official said. “The doors are open for him and when they close … he has many opportunities to advance his mandate in whichever manner he sees fit.”

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