Updated Nov 28, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Fossil fuel lobbying in the spotlight at COP28

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President-Designate of the UNFCCC COP28 climate conference and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, speaks at a side event at the UNFCCC SB58 Bonn Climate Change Conference on June 8, 2023 in Bonn, Germany.

Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, who will lead the COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, in Bonn, Germany, earlier this year. Photo: Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

Fossil fuel lobbying at COP28 is facing scrutiny after a report alleged host country the UAE planned to discuss striking oil and gas deals with other governments at the climate summit, which starts Thursday.

Why it matters: The report — which COP28 organizers categorically deny —includes allegations that a UAE team prepared "talking points" to further the interests of ADNOC, a state oil firm that COP president-designate Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber heads.

Zoom out: Environmental groups criticized the agreement reached at last year's COP27 meeting in Egypt for not calling for the phasing down of all fossil fuels.

  • Fossil fuel industry representatives have attended UN climate talks more than 7,200 times in the past 20 years, according to a report released by a coalition of advocacy groups last week.
  • Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-president of The Club of Rome, a nonprofit in Switzerland that works on climate change, who wrote last year that she feared the event was "becoming little more than a circus, with the petrostates as the ringmasters," told NPR this week that the number of lobbyists who attend the COPs had surged.
  • A COP28 team spokesperson declined to comment on the lobbying concerns.

Zoom in: The Centre for Climate Reporting and the BBC allege that briefing notes were prepared for UAE team meetings with "at least 27 foreign governments" ahead of the conference that's due to run until Dec. 12.

  • Among them was a "talking points" plan for China that allegedly said UAE state oil firm ADNOC was "willing to jointly evaluate international LNG opportunities" in Mozambique, Canada and Australia," per the report.
  • The COP28 team spokesperson said in an email on Monday night: "The documents referred to in the BBC article are inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings. It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting."
  • The BBC declined to comment on the COP28 team's accusations.
  • Representatives for ADNOC did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Of note: UN officials announced in June that fossil fuel lobbyists would for the first time have to publicly disclose their role when registering for COP in Dubai.

What we're watching: The world is on course to exceed 2°C of warming by the end of the century at current levels and UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned earlier this month: "Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production."

  • But the UAE presidency has said it is committed to keeping to the 1.5°C goal despite the challenges.
  • Al-Jaber, who is also the United Arab Emirates' top renewable energy official and climate envoy, has described the phasedown of fossil fuels as "essential" and "inevitable." He's sought to convey that he can use his oil and gas experience to his advantage at COP28.
  • Dixson-Declève said it would be "the perfect scenario" if the UAE does "chart a practical but ambitious path to move the world off of fossil fuels," per NPR.

Go deeper: Making sense of the rift over COP28

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