COP28 leader denies report UAE wanted to seek oil deals at summit

The Emirati president-designate for the upcoming United Nations COP28 climate talks forcefully denied Wednesday a report alleging his nation planned to use the summit to strike oil and gas deals.

Sultan al-Jaber, who also leads the massive state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., called the allegations from a BBC report “an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency” before the talks were set to begin on Thursday. The report cited what it described as “leaked briefing documents” the broadcaster said showed the Emirates planned to discuss oil, gas and renewable energy deals with several nations.

“These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate,” al-Jaber told a small group of journalists gathered for a news conference that also was aired live. “I promise you never ever did I see these talking points that they refer to or that I ever even used such talking points in my discussions.”

He added: “So 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.”

Asked for comment, the BBC said: “The investigation was rigorously researched according to the highest editorial standards.” The broadcaster did not elaborate regarding the report, which it published with the Center for Climate Reporting.

Immediately after the remarks, a faked news release sent to The Associated Press described al-Jaber as having agreed to resign. COP28 organizers with the UAE delegation later confirmed it was false and al-Jaber would continue in his role.

Each year, the country hosting the U.N. negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name — nominates a person to chair the talks. Hosts typically pick a veteran diplomat as the talks can be difficult to steer between competing nations and their interests.

The nominee’s position as “COP president” is confirmed by delegates at the start of the talks, usually without objections. However, activists’ ire over al-Jaber’s selection could still see a turbulent start to the negotiations.

ADNOC, the state oil company, has plans to increase its production of crude oil from 4 million barrels a day up to 5 million, boosting its production of carbon-emitting crude oil and natural gas.

Al-Jaber, a 50-year-old longtime climate envoy, is a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He’s been behind tens of billions of dollars spent or pledged toward renewable energy in the federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Jaber escorted Sheikh Mohammed through the COP28 site on Wednesday ahead of his remarks.

But the fact that al-Jaber repeatedly defended himself and the country from activists’ criticism is telling in the Emirates, an autocratic nation that while a key U.S. business and military ally still tightly controls speech, bans political parties and criminalizes labor strikes.

U.S President Joe Biden, who has attended the last two COP meetings in Scotland and Egypt, will not attend this summit amid the Israel-Hamas war. Vice President Kamala Harris will attend in his place.