Leading climate figures have reacted with horror to news that the United Arab Emirates has been allegedly planning to leverage the upcoming UN climate summit for new oil and gas deals.
Days before the start of Cop28, leaked briefing documents revealed the UAE’s intention to discuss fossil fuel projects with representatives of other countries, who have traveled to Dubai under the auspices of tackling the climate crisis.
The UAE’s Cop28 team prepared talking points for meetings with 15 foreign governments, indicating intentions to explore oil and gas deals, according to reporting from the Centre for Climate Reporting and BBC. The Independent has reached out to the Cop28 presidency for comment.
The revelations have heightened concerns over a conflict of interest at the climate summit. The UAE Cop28 presidency has already come under fire after appointing Sultan al Jaber, CEO of state-owned oil company Adnoc, to lead proceedings.
Former US vice president and environmentalist Al Gore said the allegations were “utterly appalling”.
“The chances for real progress at COP28 were badly damaged early this year when an oil company CEO was appointed to lead the negotiations,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“And now investigative journalists have confirmed some of the worst fears of those who criticized that absurd appointment.”
“Using international climate talks as leverage to shore up support for pumping more oil and gas at a time when we urgently need to phase out fossil fuels is – to say the least – utterly appalling.”
The chances for real progress at COP28 were badly damaged early this year when an oil company CEO was appointed to lead the negotiations. And now investigative journalists have confirmed some of the worst fears of those who criticized that absurd appointment with the shocking… https://t.co/jDJwofmrWs
— Al Gore (@algore) November 27, 2023
The investigative journalists uncovered documents that said Adnoc was willing to explore oil and gas in Mozambique, Canada and Australia, while in Colombia it “stands ready” to help develop its oil and gas reserves. The company also suggested discussing commercial opportunities with other countries including Germany and Egypt.
The reports found that on at least one occasion, one country followed up on commercial discussions.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was asked about the BBC findings at a press conference following his trip to the Antarctic where he witnessed the catastrophic melting that the rising global temperature is causing.
“I can’t believe it is true,” he responded.
This is the 'Volkswagen 2015' moment for the #COP28 Presidency. Caught red handed, the COP Presidency has no other option but to now unequivocally step up the transparency, responsibility and accountability with which they lead the process. [1/2]https://t.co/mOpmYDfTaL
— Christiana Figueres (@CFigueres) November 27, 2023
Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) who oversaw the 2015 Paris Agreement, said the Cop28 presidency must “step up the transparency” now that they are “caught red handed”.
“This COP Presidency will be under public scrutiny like no other ever before. This is a deep challenge and a transformational opportunity for them. The planet cannot afford for them to not step up,” she added.
In a statement to the BBC, UAE Cop representatives did not deny using climate meetings for business talks, adding that“private meetings are private”.
A Cop28 spokesperson also told The Guardian: “The documents referred to are inaccurate and were not used by Cop28 in meetings.” They did not specify in what ways they were inaccurate.
Cop28 takes place in a year that is tracking to be the hottest on record and after months of wildfires, floods and droughts around the world.
Climate activists, some lawmakers and even Pope Francis have been highly skeptical about the ability of an oil-dependent nation to lead the fight in cutting the fossil fuel emissions causing global heating.
Climate campaign group 350.org said making Mr Jaber the Cop28 president was like “appointing the CEO of a cigarette company to oversee a conference on cancer cures”.
Kaisa Kosonen, policy coordinator at Greenpeace International, called the BBC findings a “real scandal” ahead of Cop28.
“The climate summit leader should be focused on advancing climate solutions impartially, not backroom deals that are fuelling the crisis. This is exactly the kind of conflict of interest we feared when the CEO of an oil company was appointed to the role,” she said.