The president of the United Nations’ annual climate summit planned to use the talks to lobby dozens of countries and business leaders to increase exports of oil and gas, according to leaked documents obtained by media outlets this week.
Dubai is preparing to host the 28th Conference of the Parties, or COP, this week, which will see hundreds of world dignitaries and envoys meet to discuss the growing threat of a warming world. The president of COP28 is Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, or ADNOC, which provides about 3% of the world’s oil.
The Centre for Climate Reporting and the BBC obtained briefing documents from a whistleblower that suggests Al Jaber and his colleagues planned to discuss fossil fuel exports with nearly 30 foreign nations between July and October. It’s unclear how often those interests were discussed, but the outlets report at least one nation followed up on the commercial discussions.
The team representing the UAE at the climate talks told the BBC “private meetings are private” when asked about the leaked briefing documents, but did not dispute that it planned to discuss business interests.
“Dr Sultan [Al Jaber] holds a number of positions alongside his role as COP28 President-Designate,” a spokesperson for COP28 told the Centre for Climate Reporting. “That is public knowledge. Private meetings are private, and we do not comment on them.”
The report prompted immediate fury from environmental groups.
“If the allegations are true, this is totally unacceptable and a real scandal,” Kaisa Kosonen, policy coordinator at Greenpeace International, said in a statement. “The climate summit leader should be focused on advancing climate solutions impartially, not backroom deals that are fueling the crisis. This is exactly the kind of conflict of interest we feared when the CEO of an oil company was appointed to the role.”
The fact that the United Arab Emirates is hosting the climate summit has raised concerns far beyond the report. The UAE is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and climate experts have expressed doubt about the country’s ability to tout both environmentalism and fossil fuel production.
The country has pledged to address its fossil fuel production, issuing a net zero carbon emissions promise by 2045, the first in the region. But Al Jaber has resisted calls to step down from his role at ADNOC while he serves as the president of the climate summit.
The UN body that oversees climate change says host nations — and the presidents they appoint to oversee a COP — have an “obligation of impartiality.” The UN told the BBC COP presidents are expected to “act without bias, prejudice, favouritism, caprice, self-interest, preference or deference, strictly based on sound, independent and fair judgement.”
While the UN holds COPs every year, scientists have warned with increasing urgency that the planet is running out of time to address greenhouse gas emissions in the hopes of preventing warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond that point, they warn of a host of climate-related ills, including increased extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity and impacts of food production, among many others.
The planet has already warmed 1.2 degrees. A recent federal report also found the US is already dealing with many of those negative impacts, including the growing threat of flood, fire and drought.
US President Joe Biden is not expected to attend the summit this year. The White House cited the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the decision.