COP28 – the annual United Nations climate conference – is facing increasing scrutiny after the BBC reported Monday that host United Arab Emirates plans to use the Dubai summit to discuss oil and natural gas deals with several countries.
The meetings are to be led by COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber, who is also the CEO of the UAE’s state oil company Adnoc and state renewables business, Masdar. One of the talking points in leaked documents seen by the BBC suggested telling oil-producing countries there was “no conflict” between extracting oil and climate change. Oil executives have gone on the defensive amid months-long criticism over the presence of Adnoc and big oil at COP28, with OPEC saying that a recent International Energy Agency report, “unjustly vilifies the [oil and gas] industry as being behind the climate crisis.”
With Al Jaber being caught “red-handed,” the COP Presidency now has to “unequivocally step up the transparency, responsibility and accountability” in leading the process, climate activist Christina Figueres writes on X. She compares the COP28 revelations in the BBC’s report to the “Volkswagen 2015 moment” where the automaker’s massive “Dieselgate” scandal exposed the entire diesel car market to greater public scrutiny over pollution emission tests. Calling this “a deep challenge and a transformational opportunity” for COP leaders, Figueres warns that the “planet cannot afford for them not to step up.”
Al Jaber has relied on highly paid consultants to manage his image as a palatable climate change envoy and COP president, the Intercept reported in October. They have branded him as a “fixer” who can help build bridges between the fossil fuel industry and the climate change movement. But his refusal to step down as Adnoc’s chief has “blurred” the lines between the state-owned oil company and COP28, one former summit staffer said. Some PR agencies acting on behalf of COP28 were allegedly engaged by Adnic and Masdar rather than the COP team, the Intercept reported. Al Jaber’s appointment as COP president is, one climate media expert said, the culmination of a 30-year effort by big oil and energy companies to “set their own targets and create their own rules.”
U.S. President Joe Biden’s absence from COP28 is delegitimizing the summit’s mission, argues Jessica Davies for Proactive, a financial news site. As the world’s largest producer of oil and second-biggest polluter, the U.S. is key in negotiating any future climate commitments, and it is a setback to not have Biden involved in these discussions. But several leaders of transitional energy and green initiative companies are also skipping the meeting, with one cleantech industry veteran calling the summit a “circus” that does little to help small and medium-sized businesses dedicated to reducing greenhouse emissions.