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Pope Francis calls out UAE fossil fuel exports ahead of Cop28

Pontiff says gas and oil companies still investing in the Emirates, despite the country making progress on renewable energy
Pope Francis leads a mass on the opening day of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, at St Peter's square in The Vatican, on 4 October 2023 (AFP)
Pope Francis leads a mass on the opening day of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, at St Peter's square in The Vatican, on 4 October 2023 (AFP)

Pope Francis has called out the United Arab Emirates' role as one of the world's largest exporters of fossil fuels, in a major new speech on climate change ahead of the Cop28 summit in the Emirates.

The comments were part of a 12-page letter published on Wednesday titled Laudate Deum (Praise God), a follow-up to a landmark 2015 encyclical on climate change entitled Laudato Si (Praise be to you). 

"The United Arab Emirates will host the next Conference of the Parties (Cop28)," Pope Francis said. 

"It is a country of the Persian Gulf known as a great exporter of fossil fuels, although it has made significant investments in renewable energy sources.

"Meanwhile, gas and oil companies are planning new projects there, with the aim of further increasing their production." 

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The UN Climate Change Conference, also known as Cop28, will take place in Dubai between 4-6 November.

The choice of the UAE as host has been condemned by critics over the country's poor environmental and human rights record.

The appointment of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), as president of the conference has also drawn criticism as a "conflict of interest". 

'Whatever is being done [towards clean energy transition] risks being seen only as a ploy to distract attention'

- Pope Francis

Pope Francis said that he hoped Cop28 was a "historic event" that would lead to acceleration towards a transition in energy. 

"The necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed," he said. 

"Consequently, whatever is being done risks being seen only as a ploy to distract attention."

In November last year, campaign group Global Witness found that 636 fossil fuel lobbyists attended Cop27 in Egypt, a jump of 25 percent since the previous summit. The biggest delegation of oil and gas executives came from the UAE, with 70 delegates, followed by Russia with 33.

Missing methane emissions data

report in August revealed that the UAE had failed to submit its state-owned oil company’s methane emissions to the UN for over a decade.

Since 2014, the UN’s climate body has required countries to submit their methane emissions every two years. Unlike other petrostates, the UAE has consistently failed to do so.

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

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Critics also accuse the UAE of using AI-generated bots to disseminate posts supporting Jaber on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Pope added that each time global temperatures increased by 0.5 percent, "the intensity and frequency" of floods, droughts and extreme heatwaves increases. 

Last month, climate change researchers told Middle East Eye that events such as Storm Daniel, which devastated Libya and resulted in over 10,000 deaths, would intensify in strength due to rising global temperatures. 

"While climate change is likely to lead to an overall decrease in the number of cyclones in the Mediterranean, the storms that do form are likely to be stronger, with more intense rainfall," said Liz Stephens, professor in climate risks and resilience at the University of Reading. 

The Pope called for changes on an individual level too, noting that emissions per person in the United States were twice as great as China and seven times more than the poorest countries.

"A broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact," he said. 

Increasingly, global summits on climate and sustainability are being used as an opportunity for fossil fuel companies to exert their influence.

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