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UAE Used COP28 to Push $100 Billion in New Oil Deals, New Analysis Shows

Critics warn of the possibility of consecutive COPs being hijacked for the interests of big polluters and their profits.

COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber during a plenary session at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 13, 2023.

A new analysis released by human rights and anti-corruption group Global Witness on Wednesday left no room for doubt, said one campaigner, that the host country of last year’s United Nations climate summit, the United Arab Emirates, prioritized fossil fuel interests over the planet.

“Make no mistake, COP28 was hijacked by the interests of the fossil fuel industry,” said Patrick Galey, senior investigator for Global Witness, referring to the 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The analysis showed that the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) used the COP28 presidency of its CEO, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, to seek deals worth nearly $100 billion with oil, gas, and petrochemical companies in at least 12 countries.

Fossil fuel firms, said Galey, “weren’t content simply to block or stall genuine climate policy but used the opportunity to pursue more climate-wrecking oil and gas deals.”

Al Jaber previously denied that ADNOC used COP28 to further its business interests after a leak of briefing documents that instructed the company to discuss fossil fuel deals with at least 16 states that were present at the talks.

According to Global Witness, the company sought deals with at least 11 of those countries and at least one other that had not been included in the leaked documents.

The group’s investigation found that the UAE redoubled its investment in oil and gas in Egypt in 2023, the year Al Jaber presided over COP28. ADNOC finalized a deal with TotalEnergies Marketing Egypt, purchasing a 50% stake in the company for a reported $200 million — resulting in the UAE now jointly operating 240 service stations across the country and contributing to its record profits posted in 2023.

Other deals sought by ADNOC with COP28 participants include a joint venture with BP to buy a 50% stake in NewMed Energy in Israel and multiple bids for a stake in Braskem, the largest petrochemical producer in Latin America. The company is part-owned by Brazil’s state-run oil and gas producer Petrobas.

ADNOC also finalized deals worth an estimated $17 billion with Lukoil in Russia and Wintershall in Germany to develop the Hail and Ghasha gas field in the UAE.

Global Witness’ findings bolstered a report by the Center for Climate Reporting and the BBC in November, which showed Al Jaber used his position at COP28 to push for fossil fuel deals with foreign governments.

The report confirms the worst fears of climate campaigners, who were incensed in early 2023 when Al Jaber was named the president of the U.N.’s largest annual climate conference and warned of conflicts of interest due to his position at the helm of ADNOC.

As it turns out, said Galey, “the UAE knew exactly what it was doing and was not let down — COP28 seems to have been molded towards the benefit of its state oil company.”

“As depressing as it is dystopian, climate talks must never be allowed to create more climate chaos,” he added.

The analysis was released weeks after U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) led 24 Democratic lawmakers in writing to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House Senior Advisor John Podesta, urging them to support conflict of interest guidelines ahead of COP29, which is scheduled to take place in November in Baku, Azerbaijan.

With Mukhtar Babayev, the country’s ecology and natural resources minister who worked for a state-owned oil and gas company for more than 20 years, set to preside over the conference, Galey said that “COP28 seems to have provided other petrostates with a sinister playbook to copy and paste from.”

“As the UAE passes the baton onto Azerbaijan, we are now looking at the possibility of consecutive COPs being hijacked for the interests of big polluters and their profits,” said Galey, noting that scientists have warned the planet is “dangerously close” to heating that exceeds 1.5°C.

Global Witness pointed to recently announced plans to partially privatize the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) ahead of COP29, “with its downstream and petrochemical subsidiaries made available to help attract foreign investments.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who signed the letter spearheaded by Merkley and Schakowsky, said Global Witness’ report “is a disturbing warning about the potential for further fossil fuel corruption at COP29, which incredibly will also be hosted by another fossil fuel executive.”

“I will continue urging the U.S. and UNFCCC to adopt new policies to prevent these absurd conflicts of interest that frustrate the international community’s work to address the urgent threats of climate change,” she said.

Global Witness reached out to ADNOC, SOCAR, and COP29 for comment regarding its investigation, and was told that ADNOC is working to “secure, reliable, and responsible supply of energy to support a just, orderly, and equitable global energy transition and that allegations regarding Al Jaber’s deal-making at COP28 are “false, not true, incorrect, and not accurate.”

A COP29 spokesperson said Azerbaijan is “100% committed to bringing countries together with the ambition of keeping the 1.5° target within reach.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), said in a statement Wednesday that Babayev should be removed “from any leadership role at COP29.”

“It is an absolute scandal that the UNFCCC has two years running put an oil and gas executive in charge of this event,” she said, “thus putting foxes in charge of the henhouse.”

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