As host of global climate talks starting this week, the United Arab Emirates is expected to play a central role in forging a deal to more quickly transition the world away from coal, oil and gas.
But behind the scenes, the Emirates has tried to use its position as host to pursue a contradictory goal: lobbying for oil and gas deals around the world, according to an internal document made public by a whistleblower.
In one example, the document provides guidance for Emirati climate officials to use meetings with Brazil’s environment minister to seek her help in a local petrochemical deal by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the Emirates’ state oil and gas company. known as Adnoc. .
Emirati officials should also inform their Chinese counterparts that Adnoc was “willing to jointly evaluate international LNG opportunities” in Mozambique, Canada and Australia, the document said. LNG stands for liquefied natural gas, a fossil fuel and a driver of global warming.
These and other details in the nearly 50-page document – obtained by the Center for Climate Reporting and the BBC – have put a damper on the climate summit, which starts on Thursday. These are indications, experts say, that the UAE is blurring the line between its powerful position as host of the United Nations climate conference and the UAE’s position as one of the world’s largest oil and gas exporters.
“I can’t believe it,” António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, said at a news conference on Monday. The UAE was “caught red-handed,” Christiana Figueres, a former United Nations diplomat posted on X. Ms Figueres led the negotiations that culminated in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the pact among the world’s countries to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“At this point, we might as well meet at a real oil refinery,” said Joseph Moeono-Kolio, chief adviser to the Campaign for a Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty, an advocacy network.
Members of Emirates’ climate delegation did not respond to requests for comment.
An Emirati official was previously quoted by the BBC as saying that “private meetings are private.” A spokesperson for the climate summit, known by its acronym COP28, called the document “inaccurate” and “not used by COP28 during meetings.” Follow-up questions were not answered.
Privately, delegates preparing to travel to Dubai expressed concern that the cloud surrounding the host country threatened to discredit the talks themselves. The accusations, they said, threatened to undermine what many hoped the negotiations would produce: a deal to replace polluting fossil fuels with clean energy such as wind and solar power. But many said they were reluctant to speak out publicly for fear of jeopardizing their ability to negotiate.
The United Nations climate conference has a rotating chairmanship and the talks starting this week are led by Sultan Al Jaber, who also heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, or Adnoc, which controls about 3 percent of the oil in the world supplies. He also heads the smaller state-owned renewable energy company Masdar.
Christina Voigt, a law professor at the University of Oslo and a former Norwegian climate change negotiator, said there are no set procedural rules for COP presidencies. Many host countries have previously concluded agreements for infrastructure or sustainable energy projects. “However, side agreements on fossil fuel developments are not helpful in supporting the Paris goals and undermine confidence,” she said.
Environmental groups and experts have expressed deep skepticism that an oil executive is leading an international meeting aimed at tackling climate change. Although Abu Dhabi has taken steps to diversify, its economy and government budget are both heavily dependent on the continued production of oil and gas.
Mr Al Jaber has advocated an ‘all of the above’ approach, where renewables are seen as a complement to fossil fuels, rather than a replacement.
The document suggests that “the firewalls are simply not there and that ‘business is business’ above all else,” said Nikki Reisch, who directs the climate and energy program at the Center for International Environmental Law, an environmental nonprofit.
It was also important to note, she said, that other fossil fuel producing countries, including the United States, continue to double down on their expansion plans. That’s despite unequivocal science linking the burning of fossil fuels to a dangerously warming planet.
The leaked document is divided into ‘talking points’ that Mr Al Jaber and his colleagues can use during meetings with various delegations in the run-up to the talks. The document often contains issues identified as important to Adnoc, the state-owned oil and gas company.
For example, talking points prepared ahead of Al Jaber’s meeting with Zhao Yingmin, China’s Vice Minister of Environment, said Chinese companies are among the Emirates’ “most strategic partners,” with sales and trade volumes totaling $15 billion in the past year. Adnoc was prepared to “further support energy security” in China and was willing to jointly evaluate international LNG options,” the document said.
Although the topics of discussion are not yet dated, China took part in a pre-COP ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi late last month. The COP website bills the event as “an important opportunity for the world to unite behind a collective ambition to transform the global response to the climate crisis.”
The document also notes that Adnoc “stands ready to support the supply of petrochemical products to Egypt” and to “expand LNG supplies to Germany.” It also includes instructions for negotiating specific deals. For example, it notes that Adnoc is willing to renegotiate prices for the UAE’s supply of petroleum products and jet fuel to Kenya, but “only if the Kenyans agree to extend the contract for another year.”
In a section prepared for a meeting with Marina Silva, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment, Adnoc asks for help in a bid to take over Braskem, a major Latin American petroleum company. “We are in the early stages of a non-binding offer with our partner Apollo for Braskem (one of the top petrochemical producers in the world),” the document said.
“Approval of the deal at the highest level is important to us,” the report continues, urging UAE officials to obtain Ms. Silva’s “support in facilitating a telephone conversation with the relevant minister.” Earlier this month, Adnoc offered to pay more than $2.2 billion for a stake in Braskem.
However, it remains unclear how many of the topics for discussion were ultimately discussed during the meetings. A spokesperson for Brazil’s environment ministry said Ms Silva never discussed these matters during her meetings with the UAE in August and September. The Chinese, Egyptian, German and Kenyan delegations did not respond to requests for comment.
The document also suggests negotiators are seeking deals for Masdar, the Emirates’ renewable energy company. “Masdar aims to increase its presence in the US through near-term acquisitions,” read the talking points prepared for meetings with John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate. It directs UAE officials to seek Mr. Kerry’s help with the approvals needed for foreign investment in the United States.
Manuela Andreoni contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.