Canada is one of nearly 30 countries that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may have tried to target for oil and gas trade deals when they met with COP28 President-Designate Sultan al Jaber in the lead-up to UN climate negotiations that open this week in Dubai, according to a news exposé published Monday morning.
Al Jaber, who has faced withering criticism and at least one “remarkable” diplomatic rebuke for his dual role as incoming COP President and CEO of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), “has held scores of meetings with senior government officials, royalty, and business leaders from around the world in recent months,” the UK-based Centre for Climate Reporting writes, an itinerary that is not unusual for the months leading up to the COP. But at the same time, “the COP28 team has quietly planned to use this access as an opportunity to increase exports of ADNOC’s oil and gas,” the news report adds, citing more than 150 pages of leaked briefing notes obtained from an unidentified whistleblower.
The exposé, co-produced by CCR and the British Broadcasting Corporation, says at least one country “followed up on commercial discussions brought up in a meeting with al Jaber,” while ADNOC’s commercial interests “were allegedly raised” in at least one other meeting with a country.
A partial list of countries profiled in the leaked briefing notes includes Azerbaijan, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela. The briefing note for China also conveys ADNOC’s willingness “to jointly evaluate international LNG opportunities”’ in Mozambique, Canada, and Australia.
Notwithstanding the details in the briefing notes, “it is not clear on exactly how many occasions al Jaber and his colleagues discussed the talking points in COP28 meetings with foreign governments,” CCR writes. “Briefings prepared ahead of meetings suggest he planned to raise commercial interests with almost 30 countries. More than a dozen of them contacted by the BBC and CCR did not respond to requests for comment. Several countries denied discussing commercial interests with al Jaber despite the talking points appearing on briefings prepared ahead of the meetings; five others said that no meetings took place.”
CCR Senior Reporter Ben Stockton told CBC that meetings with the Canadian government “did go ahead. That was confirmed to us by the Canadian government. But they did say that no commercial interests were raised during that meeting.”
Kaitlin Power, spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, said Guilbeault has met with al Jaber four or five times in the last year. Guilbeault “was designated by the COP Presidency as co-facilitator for the means of implementation at COP28,” she told The Energy Mix in an email, and “their discussions were limited to Minister Guilbeault’s ongoing work in this role and focused on multilateral interests, as opposed to the national interests of either country.”
Power added that “no mention was made of Masdar’s or ADNOC’s commercial activities.” (Masdar is the UAE’s flagship renewable energy firm that may be taking credit for far more clean energy production than it has achieved to date, according to a Bloomberg Green report this week.)
Carolyn Svonkin, press secretary to Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, told The Mix she wasn’t aware of any meetings between Wilkinson’s department and the UAE. She added that LNG “has the potential to replace higher-emitting fossil fuels, reduce global reliance on coal and Russian gas, prevent energy poverty, and enhance energy security, but it must be pursued in a manner that is aligned with Canada’s and the world’s climate commitments. This means that if LNG is to play any role as we move towards the net-zero future, there is an urgent need for accelerated work to eliminate upstream emissions associated with extraction,” on a timeline that “avoids the risk of stranded assets.”
Neither Power nor Svonkin answered questions about whether it would be appropriate for UAE officials to discuss business deals on behalf of ADNOC or Masdar while conducting bilateral meetings leading up to the COP.
In response to the CCR-BBC investigation, a spokesperson for the COP28 organizing team did not deny that business talks may have been combined with bilateral meetings related to the UN summit. Al Jaber “holds a number of positions alongside his role as COP28 President-Designate,” the spokesperson told CCR and BBC. “That is public knowledge. Private meetings are private, and we do not comment on them.”
Later, an unnamed COP28 spokesperson associated with the Edelman Smithfield PR firm told CBC the briefing notes were not put to use. “The documents referred to in the BBC article are inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings,” they wrote in an email. “It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting.”
Veteran climate negotiator Manuel Pulgar-Vidal of Peru, who chaired COP20 negotiations in Lima in 2014, agreed that no COP president should ever make their home country’s commercial interests a part of the discussion.
“As a COP president, you should not represent any national or commercial interest, it is your job to lead the world,” he told CCR. “You can’t represent the interests of a country or a business because it will undermine confidence and trust in the presidency.”
Last September, former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres told the Climate Changes Everything conference in New York she had recently gained confidence in al Jaber’s leadership because she thought he had grown to appreciate that distinction.
The COP President’s mandate is to “separate him or herself from the national interest and be completely open to all different political perspectives, because that person needs to engage openly in order to bring people to common ground,” Figueres explained. While it didn’t appear that al Jaber “actually understood that differentiation” in the first six months of his mandate, she said, “lately I have seen him moving in that direction, which I celebrate,” as an indication that “he has understood the multilateral responsibility that comes with that role.”