After years of insinuating itself into the COP process, a petrostate will host the COP28 climate talks later this year, and an oil company CEO will be the presiding president.
This year’s Conference of the Parties (COP28) will take place from November 30 – December 12 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is an OPEC member and the seventh-largest oil producer in the world with the seventh-largest oil reserves. It will be hosted by president-designate Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
While the fossil fuel industry has been active during the three-decades-long COP process, this is only the third time that the climate meetings are taking place in a petrostate, and it is the first time that the president-designate is the CEO of an oil company. This is particularly egregious because this year’s COP is the first stocktake of global emissions and as such it is the most important conference of the parties since the landmark Paris Agreement at COP21.
Despite being the primary cause of climate-causing emissions, the fossil fuel industry has insidiously insinuated itself into every feature and facet of public and private life as well as civil society. Their influence even extends to the international treaty to limit emissions known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC secretariat supports the annual UN-sponsored COP process. Although these talks have secured historic global climate agreements, they have been hampered by the influence of the fossil fuel industry.
According to leaks reported by Greenpeace, the fossil fuel industry has succeeded in watering down the wording of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate assessments. OPEC leader Saudi Arabia successfully lobbied to remove references to phasing out fossil fuels in the IPCC’s 2022 report.
While the oil and gas industry has been ever present during the three-decades-long COP process, that presence has grown in recent years. At COP25 there were an estimated 340 fossil fuel delegates, At COP26, there were more than 500, and at COP27 there were 637. Fossil fuels were center stage at COP26, where, for the first time, all governments acknowledged the causal role of hydrocarbons as the leading driver of climate change. However, delegates were cajoled into changing the language on coal in the final text from “phasing out” to “phasing down” after China and India objected.
Despite the historic agreement on Loss and Damage at COP27, the fossil fuel industry killed efforts to reign in oil and gas even though a broad coalition of more than 80 countries, including the EU, supported an Indian proposal to phase down all fossil fuels. As a member of the Arab Group, the UAE condoned Saudi Arabia’s efforts to kill the proposal, while at the same time, promoting ADNOC.
A new report from Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) reveals that entities linked to the fossil fuel industry spent $4 million on 3,781 Meta disinformation ads before COP27. The UAE sent 1,000 delegates to COP27, by far the largest country delegation to ever attend the climate talks. These delegates promoted the UAE’s role as the 2023 COP host. The Emirati delegation had more than 70 members linked to oil and gas companies which was the largest number of UAE fossil fuel lobbyists ever to attend the climate meetings. ADNOC was also present in the UAE’s onsite pavilion. More than a year before the start of COP28 the UAE also hired PR firms and lobbying agencies to portray itself as an environmental champion.
The UAE is working hard to improve its image, but the image they are seeking to promote does not match the reality on the ground. Despite well-planned sound bites, the UAE is a petrostate that will use COP28 as a platform to justify the ongoing extraction of hydrocarbons.