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Cop28: UAE to seek oil and gas deals at climate talks, leaked documents reveal

Briefing documents contain talking points for meetings with at least 27 countries to discuss oil and gas projects
COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber at the Africa Climate Summit 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya, 6 September 2023 (Reuters)

Leaked briefing documents reveal Emirati plans to pursue oil and gas deals during the COP28 climate summit, starting in Dubai this week, the BBC reported on Monday. 

The briefings, which were prepared for the summit’s president-designate, Sultan al-Jaber, who is also CEO of the UAE's state oil company, Adnoc, and of the state renewables business, Masdar, reveal plans to hold meetings hosted by Jaber with at least 27 foreign governments over prospective oil and gas deals with both these companies.

The documents contain a summary of objectives and “talking points” - many of them drafted by Adnoc and Masdar - outlining proposals for jointly developing oil and gas projects with at least 15 governments, including China, Colombia, Egypt and Germany.

The proposals include a potential deal with China over liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Mozambique, Canada and Australia.

The briefings also suggest that the UAE will use the talks to seek deals for Masdar, with additional talking points prepared for meetings with 20 countries including the UK, USA, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kenya

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The proposed talking points include seeking the UK government's support to extend a wind farm off the coast of Sheringham in Norfolk, in which Masdar has a stake.

Another suggests asking for Brazilian support for Adnoc’s bid for Latin America's largest oil and gas processing company, Braskem. 

Another proposes to inform oil-producing nations of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela that "there is no conflict between the sustainable development of any country's natural resources and its commitment to climate change".

Obligation of impartiality

According to emails seen by the BBC, COP28 staff have been instructed to adhere to the talking points in all their briefing notes, although the COP28 team has reportedly denied this.

Doing business deals during the climate summit is a serious breach of the standards set by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN body responsible for the climate negotiations, which insists on “the obligation of impartiality" of the COP president and their teams.

'Fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists are engaged in a systemic campaign of distractions, obstructions, manipulations, and pure criminal activity'

Fadhel Kaboub, Power Shift Africa

Furthermore, the raft of proposals for new oil and gas developments also contravene recommendations set by the International Energy Agency, a global watchdog, which stipulate that there is no room for new oil and gas development if global temperature rises are to be kept below 1.5C.

Abu Dhabi is already facing mounting criticism over its role as the climate summit host, as the UAE is among the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas.

The appointment of Jaber as climate president, the first oil executive to assume the role, has already drawn fierce criticism from environmentalists for what is deemed to be a clear conflict of interest.

"In a way, this is not surprising," Fadhel Kaboub, a senior advisor with Power Shift Africa, and the president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity told Middle East Eye.

"Fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists are engaged in a systemic campaign of distractions, obstructions, manipulations, and pure criminal activity. And I do not use the term 'criminal' lightly.

"If we take the science seriously, we wouldn't be making plans to add new fossil fuel infrastructure, instead we would be negotiating a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to phase out existing infrastructure within a coherent and comprehensive just transition framework," Kaboub added.

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In August, the Guardian reported that the UAE failed to report Adnoc’s methane emissions to the UN for over a decade. The company also set a leaked methane target that exceeded the level it claimed it had already reached in 2022.

Climate Action Tracker denounced the UAE’s 2050 energy strategy as “insufficient”, with its renewable energy pledges dwarfed by its planned expansion of investments in oil and gas services.

Aware of the criticism it faces over its hosting of the summit, and Jaber's presidency, the Emirati company has hired US lobbyists to clean up its image.

The UAE team has not denied using the COP talks for business meetings, adding that “private meetings are private”.

In a statement to the BBC, it said: "Dr Sultan al-Jaber is singularly focused on the business of COP and delivering ambitious and transformational climate outcomes at COP28." 

It added that it would be a "distraction" to suggest that the work he has undertaken has not "been focused on meaningful climate action".

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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