COP28: Call for urgent probe into ‘backroom oil deals’ by climate summit host and petroleum giant United Arab Emirates

The United Nations is being called on to urgently investigate claims that leaders of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, hosts of COP28, are using their presidency of the international climate summit to broker “backroom” deals on fossil fuel investments with other countries.

A report by BBC news revealed leaked briefing documents – obtained by independent journalists at the Centre for Climate Reporting, working alongside the broadcaster – were prepared by the UAE's COP28 team for meetings with at least 27 foreign governments ahead of the climate talks, which begin on Thursday in Dubai.

The documents expose plans to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations. The UN body responsible for COP28 told the BBC hosts were expected to act without bias or self-interest. The UAE team did not deny using COP28 meetings for business talks, and said “private meetings are private”.

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Scientific research names greenhouse gas emissions from burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – as the key driver of man-made climate change.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has repeatedly warned that for the global target of net zero emissions by mid-century – which is central to the Paris Agreement, signed at COP21 – oil and gas use must go into managed decline, with no new oil and gas fields approved for development beyond those already in existence.

The UN’s annual COP is the most important international forum for tackling the problem, described as the greatest existential crisis to ever face humankind. Nearly 170 world leaders are expected to attend this year’s event, including the Pope, King Charles III and representatives from the UK Government.

First Minister Humza Yousef and Scottish net zero secretary Mairi McAllan are also travelling to Dubai, despite Scotland not being an official party to the conference.

Environmentalists have reacted with outrage at the reports, which come after previous warnings over conflicts of interest between the UEA, as one of the world’s leading oil-producing nations, and action to curb global warming, and lobbying by fossil fuel companies at previous COPs.

As wildfires and other symptoms of global warming become an increasing problem, the next international summit on the issue, COP28, will be run by an oil industry executive. Picture: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty ImagesAs wildfires and other symptoms of global warming become an increasing problem, the next international summit on the issue, COP28, will be run by an oil industry executive. Picture: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images
As wildfires and other symptoms of global warming become an increasing problem, the next international summit on the issue, COP28, will be run by an oil industry executive. Picture: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images

“If true, it would make a complete mockery of COP28 being hosted in the UAE,” Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell, the party’s climate spokesperson, said. “That the world’s flagship climate event has been hijacked by big business is nothing new. It is depressingly evident just looking at many of the sponsors.

“But using it to lobby for the very same oil and gas deals being argued against by delegates in the rooms next door, including those nations most at risk from global warming, is simply weaponising it against them.

“Many of us had grave reservations about the suitability of the UAE as hosts, and this will do nothing to reassure people. They should explain themselves and the UN must hold an urgent investigation into the claims.

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“Thousands of delegates are heading for the summit, including from Scotland. They go in the hope that science will be seen, nations will be heard and that we emerge with actions, not words, to help us through the climate crisis.

“We need an end date to fossil fuels, not secretive backroom deals, and we need to make polluters pay with the launch of a new loss and damage fund.”

Concerns have previously been aired over the UAE’s suitability as a host for COP due to its status as the seventh-largest producer of oil by volume. The nation has revealed plans to extract 40 billion barrels from now until 2085.

The new revelations have sparked outrage, with demands for a probe into the accusations and calls for the sultan elected to lead the summit to stand down.

Dr Sultan al-Jaber, who is chief executive of UAE state-owned oil giant Adnoc and its national renewables business Masdar, was selected as president of the talks.

The leaked briefing documents seen by the BBC were prepared for Dr Jaber, whose key role is to meet representatives of foreign governments and encourage countries to aim as high as possible in efforts to cut emissions.

Climate campaigners have described the country’s presidency as the “fox is guarding the hen house”.

Amnesty International’s climate advisor Ann Harrison said: “Sultan Al Jaber claims his inside knowledge of the fossil fuel industry qualifies him to lead a crucial climate summit, but it looks ever more like a fox is guarding the hen house.

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“The appointment of the chief executive of one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies to lead COP28 was always a brazen conflict of interests which undermines the meeting’s ability to reach the outcome we desperately need.

“Amnesty International has repeatedly warned it was not possible for Sultan Al Jaber to be an honest broker at a summit where the rapid and equitable phasing-out of fossil fuels to avert further trashing the climate and a just transition to renewable energy must be the priority.

“The stakes are huge, with our world heating at an unprecedented rate, many are already suffering, and the rights of billions of people are at stake.”

She said documents suggesting he was briefed to advance business interests in COP meetings only fuel concerns that “COP28 has been comprehensively captured by the fossil fuel lobby to serve its vested interests that put the whole of humanity at risk”.

Kaisa Kosonen, policy co-ordinator at Greenpeace International, said: “If the allegations are true, this is totally unacceptable and a real scandal. The climate summit leader should be focused on advancing climate solutions impartially, not backroom deals that are fuelling 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.”

She added: “COP is an opportunity to secure our survival, not to strike business deals that fuel the crisis. This summit is the world’s most powerful forum to avert the biggest threat to the survival of humankind, and we urge the Presidency to act accordingly.”



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