The Emirati president of the United Nations climate conference in Dubai has denied reports that he has used his role at the negotiations to pursue fossil fuel deals.
A day before the talks are due to begin on Thursday, Sultan al-Jaber, who also is the CEO of the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (Adnoc), rejected allegations made in a joint investigation by the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) and the BBC.
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“These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate,” Jaber told reporters on Wednesday ahead of the talks, which will draw world leaders and tens of thousands of delegates to Dubai over the next two weeks.
“It’s an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency. Let me ask you a question: Do you think the UAE or myself will need the COP or the COP presidency to go and establish business deals or commercial relationships?”
Leaked documents show that al-Jaber planned to discuss fossil fuel deals in bilateral meetings at the climate summit, the CCR said.
According to the non-profit investigative journalism group, the documents include more than 150 pages of briefings prepared by COP28 staff from July to October and obtained by the CCR and the BBC from an anonymous whistle-blower.
The documents indicate Jaber planned to discuss commercial interests with almost 30 countries, according to CCR.
The briefing notes, detailed in reports published on Monday, signalled Adnoc’s willingness to work with countries including China, Germany and Egypt to develop oil and gas projects.
The CCR said that alongside the briefings, it has also seen emails and meeting records “which raise serious questions about the COP28 team’s independence from Adnoc”.
“Please, for once, respect who we are, respect what we have achieved over the years and respect the fact that we have been clear, open and clean and honest and transparent on how we want to conduct this COP process,” al-Jaber said.
Former United States Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning for climate action, said the allegations “have confirmed some of the worst fears” around al-Jaber while former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said the COP28 host had been caught “red-handed”.
“The global community’s gaze is fixed upon these leaders, expecting them to embody the very essence of integrity, untainted by bias and national or personal gain,” said Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network International.
“Any deviation from this path represents a betrayal of the trust placed in them by the world and a failure in their duty to future generations,” she wrote on X.
Al-Jaber, a 50-year-old longtime climate envoy, is a trusted confidant of the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He’s been behind tens of billions of dollars spent or pledged towards renewable energy in the UAE.
He has weathered other controversies over alleged conflict of interest since being appointed COP28 president this year, including calls from US and European lawmakers for his replacement.
Supporters, including US climate envoy John Kerry, said al-Jaber is uniquely positioned to broker compromise at the COP28 talks, where world leaders will be confronted by their lack of progress in curbing global warming in a record-breaking hot year.
Reining in the use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions are expected to top the agenda of the 13-day summit, which runs from Thursday until December 12. International funding to help countries adapt to climate change will also be hotly debated as developing countries have been demanding more contributions from industrialised nations.
An ambitious loss and damages fund agreed last year to support poorer nations to help manage the negative effects of climate change is also going to be one of the main issues covered in the negotiations. World leaders agreed to the fund at COP27 last year, but they have failed to reach consensus on the most important questions of all – which states will pay into it and how much.