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Files suggest climate summit’s leader is using event to promote fossil fuels

Sultan al-Jaber, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., will be leading the talks this week at the UN climate conference in Dubai.Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

As the host of global climate talks that begin this week, the United Arab Emirates is expected to play a central role in forging an agreement to move the world more rapidly away from coal, oil, and gas.

But behind the scenes, the UAE has sought to use its position as host to pursue a contradictory goal: to lobby for oil and gas deals around the world, according to an internal document made public by a whistle-blower.

In one example, the document offers guidance for Emirati climate officials to use meetings with Brazil’s environment minister to enlist her help with a local petrochemical deal by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., the UAE’s state-run oil and gas company, known as ADNOC.

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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 indicates. LNG stands for liquefied natural gas, which is a fossil fuel and a driver of global warming.

These and other details in the nearly 50-page document — obtained by the Centre for Climate Reporting and the BBC — have cast a pall over the climate summit, which begins Thursday. They are indications, experts said, that the UAE is blurring the boundary between its powerful standing as host of the UN climate conference, and UAE’s position as one of the world’s largest oil and gas exporters.

“I can’t believe it,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at a news conference Monday. The UAE had been “caught red-handed,” Christiana Figueres, a former UN diplomat posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. Figueres led the negotiations that yielded the 2015 Paris Agreement, the pact among nations of the world to work to limit warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“At this point we might as well meet inside an actual oil refinery,” said Joseph Moeono-Kolio, lead adviser to the campaign for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, an advocacy network.

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Members of the UAE’s climate delegation didn’t respond to requests for comment.

An Emirati official earlier was quoted by BBC saying that “private meetings are private.” A spokesperson for the climate summit, known by the acronym COP28, called the document “inaccurate” and “not used by COP28 in meetings.” Follow-up questions were not answered.

In private, delegates preparing to travel to Dubai expressed concerns the cloud surrounding the host nation threatened to discredit the talks themselves. The allegations, they said, risked undermining what many have hoped the negotiations will yield: 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 UN climate conference has a rotating presidency, and the talks opening this week are being led by Sultan al-Jaber, who also heads ADNOC, which provides about 3 percent of the world’s oil. He also runs the smaller state-owned renewables company, Masdar.

Christina Voigt, a professor of law at the University of Oslo and a former Norwegian climate change negotiator, said there were no set rules of procedure for COP presidencies. Many host countries have previously struck deals for infrastructure or renewable energy projects. “However, side deals on fossil fuel developments are not helpful for supporting the goals of Paris, and they undermine trust,” she said.

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Environmental groups and experts have expressed deep skepticism that an oil executive is running an international gathering aimed at tackling climate change. Although the UAE has taken steps to diversify, its economy and government budget both rely heavily on the continued production of oil and gas.

Al-Jaber has championed an “all of the above” approach, which paints renewables as a complement to fossil fuels, rather than a replacement for them.

The leaked document suggest that “the firewalls are simply not there and that ‘business is business’ above all,” 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 nations, the United States chief among them, continue to double down on expansion plans. That’s despite unequivocal science linking the burning of fossil fuels to a dangerously heating planet.

The leaked document is organized into “talking points” for al-Jaber and his colleagues to use at meetings with various delegations in the lead-up to the talks. The document frequently includes issues marked as important to ADNOC.

For instance, talking points prepared before al-Jaber’s meeting with Zhao Yingmin, China’s vice minister for the environment, said that Chinese companies are among the UAE’s “most strategic partners,” with sales and trades totaling $15 billion over the past year. ADNOC was prepared to “further support energy security” in China and was willing to jointly evaluate international LNG opportunities, the document said.

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In a section prepared for a meeting with Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister, ADNOC requests assistance with a bid to acquire Braskem, a major Latin American petroleum company. “We are in early stages of a nonbinding offer with our partner Apollo for Braskem (one of the world’s top petrochemicals makers),” the document notes.

“Endorsement for the deal at the highest level is important for us,” it continues. Earlier this month, ADNOC offered to pay more than $2.2 billion for a stake in Braskem.

Still, it remains unclear how many of the talking points were ultimately raised at meetings. A spokesperson for the Brazilian environment ministry said that Silva never discussed these matters when she met with the UAE in August and September. The Chinese, Egyptian, German and Kenyan delegations didn’t respond to requests for comment.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.