COP28 UN climate gathering hijacked for fossil fuel agenda
Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., speaks during the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Feb 14, 2023. | AP

This year, a united dream of a cleaner, cooler planet is being threatened by Big Oil and Gas. COP28, arguably the UN and the world’s most important environmental summit, has been “comprehensively captured by the fossil fuel lobby to serve its vested interests,” Amnesty International cautioned. Internal notes leaked by a whistleblower have vindicated their warning.

The 2023 UN Climate Change Conference is being held in Expo City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) between Nov. 30th and Dec. 12th. An intergovernmental initiative to limit global temperature rises and curb the ramifications of climate change, this year’s summit is controversial enough given the UAE’s penchant for gas and oil expansion, but recent records have been exposed that prove the COP28 team plans to exploit the conference to further that very agenda.

COP28 President Al Jaber happens to also be CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), which has recently conferred with many government and business leaders, aiming to use COP28 to ramp up ADNOC’s gas and oil exports.

The plans run utterly counterintuitive to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is to reduce the earth’s warming to just 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial age temperatures. To that end, greenhouse emissions would need to be capped before 2025 at the latest, and decline 43 percent by 2030.

Amidst the struggle to achieve this, there have been previous controversies at the hands of fossil fuel proponents, such as former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s push in 2018 to double-count carbon credits, something that would have jeopardized the integrity and potential success of the agreement’s guidelines. What will be done in Dubai, however, makes that agenda pale in comparison.

Though it is not yet clear how many COP28 meetings Al Jaber has had with foreign governments, briefings uncovered by the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) – and seen by the BBC –  indicate he discussed commercial interests with over 30 nations. An anonymous whistleblower for the CCR verified the authenticity of the plans, which Professor Michael Jacobs, a climate politics expert at Sheffield University, called, “breathtakingly hypocritical.”

“The UAE,” he remarked, “is the custodian of a United Nations process aimed at reducing global emissions. And yet, in the very same meetings where it’s apparently trying to pursue that goal, it’s actually trying to do side deals which will increase global emissions.”

Further meeting records and internal emails uncovered by the CCR show there is very little delineation between COP28 matters and the aims of ADNOC. COP28 team staffers have noted Al Jaber’s policy that talking points from ADNOC always be included in summit discussion.

Leaks contradict denials

The team has denied the allegations, but the leaks contradict such claims, as do discussion points from meetings with officials from Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Venezuela, which attempt to justify the plans with ADNOC’s claim that “there is no conflict between sustainable development of natural resources and its commitment to climate change.”

Other countries involved in Al Jaber’s talking points include Mozambique, Canada, and Australia, which would see “liquified natural gas” opportunities evaluated. Colombia, meanwhile, would find ready support from ADNOC for its own fossil fuel developments, documents indicated. Talking points for other countries included China, Germany, and Egypt.

According to an editorial by Morning Star, a daily newspaper in Britain, these kinds of actions are “as predictable as they are symbolic. Predictable because why else would this despotic Gulf monarchy, whose huge wealth is entirely derived from its vast oil reserves, seek to host COP28 except to greenwash an economic model utterly dependent on continuing fossil fuel extraction?

“Symbolic because the UAE’s disgraceful conduct is not out of tune with the wider approach of Western governments which hand management of a ‘just transition’ to the very corporations that profit most from the status quo.”

Kaisa Kosonen, Greenpeace International policy coordinator, commented, “If the allegations are true, this is a real scandal. 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. COP is an opportunity to secure our survival, not to strike business deals that fuel the crisis.”

An investigation in early November by Agence France-Presse (AFP) further uncovered an “energy transition narrative” drafted for the COP28 team by consulting firm McKinsey & Company; it outlines a reduction in oil use by only half over the next 25 years. “On average, 40-50 millions of barrels per day of oil are still expected to be utilized by 2050,” the uncovered document stated. The McKinsey energy scenario, said AFP, “reads as if it was written by the oil industry for the oil industry.”

A former consultant for the firm revealed to AFP that McKinsey “serves the world’s largest polluters,” putting it completely at odds with the mission of COP28. “The firm is best understood as possibly the most powerful oil and gas consulting firm on the planet posturing as a sustainability firm, advising polluting clients on any opportunity to preserve the status quo.”

Meanwhile, further documents were later attained by the CCR that are just as scandalous; they revealed that UAE bedfellow Saudi Arabia’s plans for an Oil Development Sustainability Programme (ODSP), which involved fossil fuel collaboration with African and Asian nations, as well. The CCR said: “The investigation obtained detailed information on plans to drive up the use of fossil fuel-powered cars, buses, and planes in Africa and elsewhere, as rich countries increasingly switch to clean energy.

Wants to accelerate supersonic air travel

“The ODSP plans to accelerate the development of supersonic air travel, which it notes uses three times more jet fuel than conventional planes, and partner with a carmaker to produce a cheap combustion engine vehicle. Further plans promote power ships, which use polluting heavy fuel oil or gas to provide electricity to coastal communities.”

Mohammed Adow, head of PowerShift Africa, remarked, “The Saudi government is like a drug dealer trying to get Africa hooked on its harmful product. The rest of the world is weaning itself off dirty and polluting fossil fuels and Saudi Arabia is getting desperate for more customers and is turning its sights on Africa. It’s repulsive.”

Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, leader of that country’s Green Party, stated that we must “actually take stock of what we have achieved and the targets we set ourselves. We have to get out of fossil fuels, we have to dramatically reduce emissions. It is no longer about visions. It is about finally delivering on the pledges we made.”

Bill McKibben, environmentalist and leader of, concluded, “It’s difficult to imagine anything more systemically evil than this spate of bids by the oil companies and oil countries to keep wrecking the planet; it’s akin to the way that tobacco companies, facing legal losses in the U.S., pivoted to expand their markets in Asia instead. But this time the second-hand smoke is going to kill us all.”

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Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a writer and production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the People's World home page. He has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and their cats. He enjoys wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he reviews music, creates artwork, and is working on several books and digital comics.