UAE plans to use COP28 climate talks to strike oil deals

  • By Justin Rowlatt
  • Climate Editor, BBC News

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Sultan al-Jaber is the chairman of the climate summit and head of the state oil company of the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates planned to use its role as host of UN climate talks as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals, the BBC has learned.

Leaked documents reveal plans to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 countries.

The UN body responsible for the COP28 summit told the BBC that the hosts are expected to act without bias or self-interest.

The UAE team did not deny using the COP28 meetings for business talks, saying “private meetings are private”.

He declined to comment on what was discussed at the meetings, saying his work was focused on “sensible climate action”.

More about the COP28 climate summit

The documents – obtained by independent journalists at the BBC's Center for Climate Reporting – were prepared by the UAE COP28 team for meetings with at least 27 foreign governments ahead of the COP28 summit, which starts on November 30.

They included suggested “talking points” such as one for China saying Adnoc, the UAE's state oil company, was “willing to jointly assess international LNG [liquefied natural gas] opportunities' in Mozambique, Canada and Australia.

The documents suggest that the Colombian minister was told that Adnoc was “ready” to support Colombia in developing its fossil fuel resources.

Thirteen other countries, including Germany and Egypt, are said to be told that Adnoc wants to work with their governments to develop fossil fuel projects.

Reports suggest that the UAE has also prepared talking points on commercial opportunities for its state-owned renewable energy company, Masdar, ahead of meetings with 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, China, Saudi Arabia , Egypt and Kenya.

COP28 is the last round of UN global climate talks. This year it is being hosted by the UAE in Dubai and is expected to be attended by 167 world leaders, including the Pope and King Charles III.

These summits are the world's most important meetings to discuss how to tackle climate change.

It is hoped that COP28 will help limit the long-term increase in global temperature to 1.5C, which the UN's climate science body says is crucial to preventing the worst effects of climate change. But that will require drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, he says — a 43 percent reduction by 2030 from 2019 levels.

In preparation for the conference, the UAE COP28 team organized a series of ministerial meetings with governments from around the world.

The meetings will be hosted by the president of COP28, dr. Sultan al-Jaber. Each year, the host country appoints a representative to chair the COP.

Meeting with representatives of foreign governments is one of the fundamental responsibilities of COP presidents. The president's job is to encourage countries to be as ambitious as possible in their efforts to reduce emissions.

Leaked briefing documents seen by the BBC were prepared for Dr. Jaber – who is also the CEO of the UAE's major state-owned oil company, Adnoc, and the state-owned renewable energy company, Masdar.

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The UAE is one of the largest oil producers in the world

The documents contain a summary of the objectives for the meetings, including information about the minister or official with whom Dr. Jaber, and what issues he should raise in the UAE's efforts to advance climate talks.

For more than two dozen countries, the documents also contain discussions prepared by Adnoc and Masdar:

  • Brazil's environment minister is reportedly being asked to help “ensure coordination and approval” of Adnoc's bid for Latin America's largest oil and gas processing company Braskem. Earlier this month, Adnoc offered $2.1bn (£1.7bn) to buy a key stake
  • Adnoc is said to have told Germany: “We are ready to continue supplying LNG”
  • Adnoc suggested that oil-producing countries Saudi Arabia and Venezuela be told “that there is no conflict between the sustainable development of any country's natural resources and its commitment to climate change”.

The BBC has seen an email exchange in which COP28 staff members were told that Adnoc and Masdar talking points should “always be included” in briefing notes. The COP28 team said it was “simply not true” that staff had been told this.

It is not clear how many times Dr. Jaber and his colleagues highlighted the topics of discussions at the COP28 meetings with foreign governments.

We know that on at least one occasion the country monitored the commercial discussions presented at the meeting organized by the UAE COP28 team.

However, 12 countries told the BBC that there was no discussion of commercial activities during the meetings or that the meeting did not take place.

Among them was the United Kingdom. Leaked documents show the COP28 president was told to “seek government support” to more than double the size of the Sheringham offshore wind farm in Norfolk, in which Masdar has a stake.

Attempting to strike deals during the COP process appears to be a serious breach of the standards of conduct expected of the COP President.

These standards are set by the UN body responsible for climate negotiations, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC says the “overriding principle” for COP presidents and their teams is the “obligation of impartiality”.

They told the BBC that COP presidents “are expected to act without bias, prejudice, favouritism, caprice, self-interest, preference or deference, strictly on the basis of sound, independent and fair judgement”.

“They are also expected to ensure that personal views and beliefs do not compromise or appear to compromise their role and duties as an UNFCCC official,” it continued.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, head of the COP20 summit in Peru in 2014, worries that a drop in confidence could mean no progress in tackling climate change in Dubai.

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

“If any COP president tries to attract a special interest, [including] commercial interest, this could mean the failure of the COP.”

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Annual COP summits bring together leaders from almost every country in the world

Professor Michael Jacobs of the University of Sheffield, who is an expert on UN climate policy, told the BBC that the actions of the COP28 team looked “staggeringly hypocritical”.

“Actually, I think it's worse than that,” he said, “because the UAE is currently the custodian of a United Nations process aimed at reducing global emissions. And yet at the same meetings where they're apparently trying to pursue that goal, , he's actually trying to make side deals deals that will increase global emissions.”

Several of the proposed projects mentioned in the briefing papers appear to represent new oil and gas developments. The International Energy Agency, the global watchdog, said no new oil and gas fields should be developed to keep temperature rises to the 1.5C target.

At a press conference last month, COP28 director-general Majid al-Suwaidi said the UAE climate summit team was “completely independent” of Adnoc and Masdar.

COP28 was “very clear about our independence” in discussions with the UNFCCC, he added.

In a statement, the COP28 team told the BBC: “The fact that Dr Sultan al-Jaber holds a number of positions in addition to his role as COP28 presidential candidate is public knowledge and something we have been transparent about from the outset.

“Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is singularly focused on the business of the COP and achieving ambitious and transformative climate outcomes at COP28,” the statement said, adding that it would be a “distraction” to suggest that the work he has carried out, was not “focused on meaningful climate action”.

These are serious allegations, but ultimately the success of the UAE leadership in the climate talks and the COP28 president himself will be judged by the results achieved at the summit, experts say.

The COP28 summit will end on Tuesday, December 12.

Additional reporting by Adam Eley and Sophie Woodcock

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