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UAE oil company employees given roles in office hosting Cop28

<span>Photograph: Rula Rouhana/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Rula Rouhana/Reuters

At least a dozen employees from the United Arab Emirate’s state-owned oil company have apparently taken up roles with the office of the UAE’s climate change special envoy, who will host this year’s Cop28 UN climate summit.

The revelation adds to growing concerns over the potential for blurred lines between the team hosting this year’s crucial summit and the oil-rich country’s influential fossil fuel industry.

The officials were apparently working in the UAE’s oil and gas industry immediately before taking up roles in the Cop28 team, according to an analysis of LinkedIn accounts by the independent investigative group Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR), and seen by the Guardian.

Among the officials are two former Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) engineers who will act as negotiators on behalf of the UAE at the conference, despite their LinkedIn profiles suggesting they may not have a background in international climate diplomacy.

Two of the employees have been seconded from their roles at Adnoc, according to LinkedIn accounts reviewed by CCR. Meanwhile, senior executives at the oil company have been “tasked with supporting” the UAE’s role as hosts of this year’s conference.

The findings follow the recent announcement that Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the chief executive of Adnoc, will preside over the conference in November while retaining his role at the oil company. Climate campaigners and some politicians have called for Jaber to give up his oil role while hosting the summit, to avoid any conflict of interest.

“If we don’t make some dramatic changes, Cop28 is going to be the lost climate summit,” said the US congressman Jared Huffman, who in a letter last week called on the special presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry, to push the UAE to remove Jaber from his post as Cop28 president. “To somehow pretend that all of these fossil fuel personnel and all of these connections are not a massive threat to the entire conference goes beyond naive.”

Sami Joost, a spokesperson for the UAE climate change special envoy, said: “The individuals who are being hired have come from a variety of backgrounds and sectors … Once in post, these individuals are entirely focused on the job of delivering Cop28 and have no obligations to their former employers.”

Adnoc did not respond to questions about its ties to the envoy.

Records also suggest at least some members of the Cop28 team may be working in the same building as the oil company. Filings with the US justice department last year listed Adnoc’s headquarters as the address for the UAE climate change special envoy. The United Nations, which organises the annual conferences, has questioned the UAE delegation about its independence from Adnoc, according to a recent Politico report.

Related: John Kerry backs UAE appointment of oil chief to oversee UN climate talks

“Staff are currently based in several different locations,” said Joost, adding that they would be moving into permanent offices in February. “In the meantime, there are clear governance guidelines in place to ensure that the team can operate entirely independently from any other entity where they may be situated.”

The UAE has said this year’s climate change conference, during which representatives from across the world will travel to Dubai to assess progress in tackling the climate emergency, will be an “inclusive Cop which brings all perspectives to the table”. The UAE has invested heavily in renewable energy but has continued to increase oil production.

Adnoc has also sought to bring on board someone with experience in international climate talks to help with “diplomatic engagement” during the conference, according to a job description seen by CCR and the Guardian. On a document headed with the Adnoc logo, the job description said the candidate would “liaise between Cop28 office and relevant UAE embassies abroad”.

One person approached for the job claimed they were told by the recruiter that Adnoc was involved in hiring for the position, even though the role appears to be entirely focused on Cop28. The recruiter also reportedly said the oil company was in the process of hiring about 100 climate policy staffers ahead of the conference.

Joost would not say whether the “diplomatic engagement” position would be part of the UAE climate change special envoy, saying he “would not comment on specific roles”.

“The aim is to bring together a team with the best possible skills and experience to allow Cop28 to deliver on all of its objectives,” he said.

The US senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who co-signed the letter to Kerry last week, said: “Time is getting short to solve the climate crisis and Cop is the only venue for finding international agreement on how to get it done. These conversations need to happen free from the malign influence of the fossil fuel industry.”

Shortly after Jaber was announced as the Cop28 president last month, the US public relations agency Edelman emailed scores of journalists touting the UAE’s investment in renewable energy. “Last year, we made a commitment to be the agency of choice for organisations dedicated to climate action,” said Michael Bush, a spokesperson for Edelman. Bush said the agency had been hired to work on Cop28 through its engagement with the Emirati renewable energy company Masdar.

Masdar is owned by Adnoc, another state-owned fossil fuel company called Taqa and an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund. Edelman has not disclosed how much it is being paid for the work.

The former UK prime minister Tony Blair was another source of praise for Jaber’s appointment. Blair has previously worked on behalf of the UAE, and a number of staff at his government advisory non-profit, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, are based in the country. Blair also gave the keynote speech at Adnoc’s investor forum in 2019.

Julie Crowley, a spokesperson for the institute, told CCR Blair was not paid for the appearance and that he has no role with Adnoc. She did not answer questions about whether Blair or his organisation had any current contracts with the UAE government and if it was formally involved in Cop28.

“This is a pivotal year in the fight against climate change and we will continue to support the drive towards energy transition and the practical measures necessary to meet the Paris targets, however we can,” she said.