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Cop28: UAE hires PR company to clean up image before climate summit

Abu Dhabi faces a barrage of criticism from climate and human rights activists ahead of event in November
The Cop28 UAE logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) in Abu Dhabi on 16 January 2023 (Reuters)
The Cop28 UAE logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) in Abu Dhabi on 16 January 2023 (Reuters)

The UAE's  state-owned renewables company, Masdar, has hired a team of US lobbyists in a bid to quell growing criticism from environmentalists ahead of the UN climate summit, Cop28, set to be held in the country later this year. 

Public relations firm First International Resources filed a contract with the US Department of Justice under lobbying rules for foreign agents with a monthly retainer of $100,000 for six months in addition to other undisclosed fees. 

One of the objectives listed in the contract was “to strengthen the overall reputation and standing of the UAE, His Excellency Dr Sultan Al Jaber and Cop28 among Western audiences”.

Jaber is the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of the UAE, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and chairman of Masdar.

According to the contract, the US firm will set out to “effectively inoculate” Jaber and Cop28 from any “potential criticism” while seeking to promote the UAE as a leader in decarbonisation efforts. 

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The US firm specialises in crisis management for companies or individuals who may appear “defensive". First International Resources noted in the contract that the appointment of Jaber as President of Cop28 has “generated predictable pushback from Greens in the West”.

It added that their research has found that the “loudest voices are not the most representative”.

The public relations firm made no mention in the document that there has also been strong criticism from leading human rights organisations. 
In a recent report, Amnesty International warned that states participating in Cop28 must pressure the host nation to release "unjustly imprisoned" activists to ensure that the annual UN climate conference is "not tarnished by repression".

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Countries that will be targeted by the public relations push include the US, France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Hungary, Spain and the United Kingdom

First International Resources hopes to influence general public and “opinion elites” who it defines as “high education, high income, high information, high social engagement respondents”.

Targeted countries were selected on the outsized voice they have in global politics and where “Greens have an influence on the national conversation,” in reference to political groups that run on a campaign of social justice and environmentalism. 

“Spanish attitudes play a key role in shaping impressions in Central and South America,” the document says in reference to Spanish speaking countries. 

The consultancy will act as “personal sounding board” to Jaber and work to combat negative press coverage around the event. 

Human rights concerns

In addition to these services, the firm added that it could use its connections inside the “US Jewish Establishment” to help steer public discourse. 

Meetings between Jaber and key members of Congress and the Biden administration will also be considered in a bid to influence the wider discussions about Cop28 in the US, the consultancy added. 

In addition to climate activists who cast doubt on the country’s green credentials, human rights groups have called on the countries attending to put pressure on the UAE with regards to its human rights record. 

In June, human rights activists came together in London to protest against the decision to hold the Cop28 climate conference in the UAE.

The event organised by ALQST, which monitors human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries, took place outside the UAE's embassy and was attended by activists from FairSquare, Amnesty International, PEN International and the MENA Solidarity Network.

"Having the world climate conference happen in a country that contributes majorly to the climate crisis is just a farce. It renders the event farcical," Julia Legner, executive director of ALQST, told Middle East Eye at the time. 

There are concerns that Abu Dhabi's own economic interests will inhibit it from making any real progress in the fight against climate change.

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