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UAE Planned to Use COP28 Climate Negotiations to Make Oil Deals


As world leaders are gearing up as the highly-anticipated COP28 kicks off this week, the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting the famous climate summit, seems to have taken a different approach. Briefing notes intended for the summit’s president, Sultan Al Jaber, show the UAE wants to use its position to broker new oil and gas deals between its state energy firms and other nations, according to a UK-registered non-profit news source.

While the UN rules state climate summit hosts should remain impartial and not use the talks for economic self-interest, the UAE is now at the center of criticism for going against that.

The climate summit should advance climate solutions, not grease the wheels for more oil and gas. 

What does this mean for the upcoming climate talks?

With COP28 approaching, all eyes are currently on its host country, the United Arab Emirates.

And now, it seems that the UAE planned to use its influential role as host of the upcoming climate conference to advance its oil and gas interests, according to leaked documents.

The documents, which were published by the UK-registered Centre for Climate Reporting, appear to be briefing notes to Sultan Al Jabar, who is in charge of the summit and also heads the state oil company Abu Dhabi National Oil Company

The documents were first shared with the BBC.

The reports reveal that the UAE intended to take advantage of its position leading the COP28 summit, to push fossil fuel projects in meetings with officials from 15 countries. 

The leaked briefing notes outline talking points for Sultan Al Jaber to discuss each country’s efforts on climate action during meetings. They highlight progress made in areas like financing, sustainable agriculture, and adopting renewables while suggesting ways to further raise ambitions.

The documents also contain recommendations for Al Jaber to propose new oil and gas deals involving ADNOC.

One suggested telling China that ADNOC was open to collaborating on liquified natural gas opportunities in Mozambique, Canada, and Australia.

There was also a talking point about ADNOC being ready to help Colombia develop its fossil fuel resources.

Talking points for 13 other countries, like Germany and Egypt, similarly aimed to promote ADNOC working with them on oil and gas projects.

ADNOC declined to comment to news outlets on the leaked documents. However, the company has previously stated that claims it is exploiting the climate talks for self-promotion are not true and baseless.

Addressing CNN in an email, one COP28 spokesperson said: “The documents referred to in the BBC article are inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings. It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting.”

The COP28 spokesperson, however, did not respond to CNN’s inquiry about whether the summit team was acting separately from ADNOC. They also did not outright deny that business deals were part of the agenda.

Aside from the recent report coming to light, the UAE has already been subject to widespread scrutiny.

Ahead of the conference, the host country appointed its top oil and gas chief to preside over COP28, Al Jaber.

While Al Jaber leads COP28, his company ADNOC plans to increase oil and gas output, per analysis from a fossil fuel watchdog. ADNOC Group is also expanding internationally into petrochemicals, renewables, and other sectors.

Besides talking points on climate and promoting ADNOC, the documents also suggest promoting projects involving Masdar. Masdar is the UAE’s main renewable energy company, which Al Jaber also heads.

It is uncertain how many proposed meetings happened. However, the notes provide insight into the team’s goals to broker new deals during them. CNN contacted 15 countries listed. Two confirmed meetings occurred but without business talks. Two others said no meeting took place.

The US, China, France, Germany, and the UK were among 15 countries whose briefing notes were published by the Centre for Climate Reporting. In total there were 27 country profiles, but the center only shared 15.

Usually, the COP host country sends its president-designate to meet foreign officials before the talks. This aims to increase climate action.

And the leaked briefing notes typical procedure for such meetings, had it not been for  the suggestions to promote ADNOC and Masdar.

According to the rules set by the United Nations, these meetings should not promote the host country’s economic interests. 

Attempting to broker business deals during the COP process appears to seriously violate the standards of conduct expected of a COP president

The UN climate body, UNFCCC, which is responsible for the COP28 summit, says a COP official must stay “impartial” and act “without bias, prejudice, favoritism, caprice, self-interest, preference or deference.”

Their code of ethics requires officials to ensure “personal views and convictions do not  compromise or appear to compromise their role and functions as UNFCCC Officer.”

The upcoming COP28 climate summit in Dubai is the 28th Conference of the Parties hosted by the UN.

 It will bring together over 150 global leaders to negotiate how to address climate change. These high-level meetings are critical for coordinating the world’s response. 

The goal for COP28 is driving action to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The UN climate authority warns that exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius will trigger catastrophic impacts. However, achieving this requires steep greenhouse gas cuts – 43 percent by 2030 compared to 2019. The talks face major challenges in getting countries to commit to rapid, far-reaching emissions reductions on the scale needed.

And amidst all of this, the UAE is caught in the middle of its little predicament.

The leaked documents also show ADNOC planned to tell Germany it could expand liquefied natural gas exports to the country. Methane is a major greenhouse gas, and it’s the main component of natural gas.

The notes indicate ADNOC already started providing liquefied natural gas to Germany in February 2023 to help replace Russian gas imports. This ties into Germany’s strategy since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Additionally, the talking points conveyed ADNOC aims to supply up to 25 percent of Germany’s hydrogen demand. Hydrogen can be produced from natural gas reserves which the UAE has in abundance.

Another talking point detailed in the leaked report was for China. It also highlighted how ADNOC’s expansion would bolster China’s energy security. It conveyed ADNOC’s openness to partner on liquefied natural gas ventures in locations like Mozambique, Canada and Australia.

Also, another talking point for Brazil involved requesting their environment minister’s assistance in getting approval and support for ADNOC’s offer to acquire a major stake in Braskem, the largest oil and gas processor in Latin America. Recently, ADNOC made a $2.1 billion bid to purchase a key portion of Braskem.

On the other hand, the notes did not suggest oil and gas projects would be discussed with all countries included.

For instance, the briefing notes for the United States mentioned potential renewable energy agreements. They indicated Masdar aimed to expand its U.S. operations by pursuing acquisitions of companies in the near future.

COP 28’s kick off comes at an extremely critical time in the global fight against climate change, ras scientists say the world is “virtually certain” to have experienced its hottest year on record in 2023.

Not to mention the fact that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe, and the Earth is approaching a series of crucial tipping points.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the COP20 climate summit in Peru back in 2014, is concerned that a breakdown in trust could result in no meaningful progress on addressing climate change at the upcoming COP28 talks in Dubai.

“The president of the COP is the leader of the world, is trying to build consensus on behalf of the planet,” he said.

“If any president of the COP tries to bring a particular interest, [including] commercial interest, that could mean the failure of the COP.”

Engaging foreign governments to drive climate ambition is a core duty of a COP president. However, the leaked documents show the UAE’s COP28 president is more focused on expanding fossil fuels than cutting emissions. Pushing gas projects contradicts the mission of rallying urgent decarbonization and phasing out hydrocarbons, raising doubt about his climate commitment.

His ADNOC ties and efforts to broker oil and gas deals signal he is not an impartial arbiter as expected. Rather than encouraging ambitious emissions targets, the UAE appears intent on growing its gas exports and acquiring fossil fuel assets abroad, indicating national economic priorities are taking precedence.

This impairs trust and potentially undermines ambitious outcomes from COP28.

It is uncertain how many times Dr Jaber and UAE officials actually brought up the commercial talking points during COP28 meetings with other governments.

There is evidence of at least one country following up on business proposals raised in a UAE-arranged meeting.

However, 12 nations told the BBC there was either no discussion of deals during their meetings or no meeting occurred at all.

This includes the UK. The leaked documents indicated Dr. Jaber was supposed to lobby the UK to expand a wind farm project partially owned by Masdar.

As COP28 approaches, tensions are rising over the UAE’s concerning conduct. This critical summit was meant to rally global climate action, not broker fossil fuel deals.

Yet the host nation seems intent on exploiting its leadership role to advance national oil and gas interests. This betrays the spirit of climate cooperation vital for progress.

The planet is rapidly approaching catastrophic tipping points. With lives and livable futures at stake, we need visionary leadership guided by ecological conscience, not corporate interests.

COP28 marks a crossroads – will economic motives derail our unified response to the climate crisis? Or can we re-center the talks on equity and ambition by speaking truth to fossil fuel powers?

The coming days will test world leaders’ true intentions, and their will to act for the world, not themselves. 

One thing is clear – the stakes could not be higher.

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