The UAE has used its role as host of next year’s UN climate conference to launder its international reputation, well ahead of the start of this year’s event, COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Emirates, which will host COP28 in November 2023, has hired PR and lobbying agencies specifically to promote its role as future host ahead of the start of this year’s conference, an unusual move that has exceeded promotional efforts of the past host nations and suggests an increased role for the Emirates in this year’s COP27 conference.
A US public relations firm, FleishmanHillard, composed a series of letters to propose Emirati ministers attend conferences or events last July, most containing the phrase ‘UAE will host COP28 next year and will be involved with COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh”. Another, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, contacted US Republican and Democrat politicians who were pushing pro-fossil fuel or environmental policies, warning them that the UAE would host COP28, just days after the announcement.
The UAE’s eagerness to show its involvement in COP27 and to host COP28 ahead of the start of both conferences speaks to its enormous political influence over Egypt and its desire to present itself as a leading global partner on environmental issues, despite being a petrostat.
The UAE has sent 1,000 delegates to COP27, by far the largest delegation in the country, double that of the second largest, Brazil. They included multiple representatives from public relations, artificial intelligence, and real estate companies. 70 of the Emirati delegation are linked to oil and gas companies, according to data compiled by Corporate Accountability, Global Witness and Corporate Europe Observatory organizations, notably Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is both the chief executive officer of the Abu Dhabi is the chief executive of the UAE’s climate envoy
UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan addressed a plenary session of world leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh and began by discussing oil and gas supplies from the Emirates. “The UAE is a responsible energy supplier and we will continue to play that role as we pursue a transition to alternative resources and technologies,” he said. “By virtue of our geology, the oil and gas we have in the UAE is among the least carbon intensive in the world. However, we will continue to work to reduce carbon emissions in the sector.”
The UAE has declared plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, even as the tiny Gulf nation continues to derive at least 30% of its GDP directly from oil and gas, with much of the remainder coming from industrial strongly linked to the consumption of fossil fuels, such as airlines, tourism or construction. Longtime observers of Emirati policies say the prospect of a smooth transition away from fossil fuels appears unlikely under current conditions.
Matthew Hedges, a UAE business analyst and author of a book on Gulf governance, who was jailed for six months in the Emirates during his doctoral research, said Emirati lobbying on climate technologies, COP27 and COP28 “they divert the discussion away from practical results for simple communication”.
In his role as both ADNOC head and UAE climate envoy, Jaber recently said, “policies aimed at divesting from hydrocarbons too soon, without adequate viable alternatives, are counterproductive.”
Jaber has also sometimes made other public statements on the climate crisis intended to present a more positive outlook. “We need more realism about the scale of the challenge and more optimism about our ability to solve it,” he told a conference recently, adding that the UAE sees itself as a “consensus builder” for Cop28.
The UAE’s record of conflicting public statements about moving away from fossil fuels is reflected in the lobbying efforts against politicians that began just three days after it announced in November 2021 that it would host COP28.
Documents filed with the US Department of Justice show that the UAE has reached out to media organizations to raise perceptions of its action on climate issues, including focusing on senators and congressmen who had very different voting records on climate issues. legislation on the climate crisis and fossil fuels.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld was awarded $2.85 million by the Emirati embassy in Washington DC for reaching out to politicians on both sides of the aisle to inform them of the UAE hosting Cop28 in the weeks following the announcement. This included senators with a legislative record of policies intended to curb fires and environmental damage caused by the climate crisis, such as Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and many other Democrats.
The lobbying efforts have also targeted others with a record of policies intended to support fossil fuel industries, including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said the climate crisis “is not a reason to destroy the fossil fuel industry.” fossil fuels,” and Senator James Inhofe who claimed man-made climate change was “the biggest hoax” ever perpetrated on Americans. Inhofe also called the US Environmental Protection Agency an “activist organization” that he said has unnecessarily burdened farmers and fossil fuel producers.
The UAE’s efforts to lobby COP28 come on top of at least $10 million in additional existing lobbying and public relations contracts with US-based firms, intended to improve perceptions of the UAE or political ties o businesses that were active at the time.
Fossil fuel boss Vicki Hollub, CEO of Occidental Petroleum, is part of the UAE delegation to Cop27 in Egypt. In an event at the climate summit on Friday, he said people calling for an end to the oil and gas industry ‘have no idea what that would mean’ and said the rise in climate disasters was the world’s fault, not only of the oil and gas industry.
Michael Hartt of FleishmanHillard dismissed suggestions that the UAE’s lobbying efforts by claiming its involvement in Cop27 and Cop28 were unusual. “Nothing was meant by the word ‘involved’ other than the fact that the UAE will attend COP27 as a participant, as it has at previous Cops, alongside other government delegations, international bodies and other organizations from around the world committed to making progress on the climate change,” he said.
The UAE shares deep political and financial ties with Egypt, following nearly a decade of support for Egyptian President, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who came to power after a military coup in 2013. Abu Dhabi has also stepped in to assist financially Sisi, both with an initial cash injection after the coup and more recently with a $2 billion purchase of state-owned stakes in Egyptian companies, intended to help the North African nation avert a financial crisis.
A UAE government official also shrugged off FleishmanHillard’s use of the word “involved” in his communications on behalf of the Emirates, denying that it implied any sort of financial or organizational support for COP27. When asked about lobbying efforts, they said that “the UAE has held a series of meetings with counterparts in and around the UN General Assembly to discuss climate action and UAE participation Join the COP27… [this] it is a common practice and is not considered lobbying. We will participate in COP27 in the same way as other countries”.
However, US Justice Department documents show that since September last year, shortly before the UAE was announced as the host of COP28, the Emirates increased its lobbying and public relations efforts on climate issues. This included at least $126,500 in deals with FleishmanHillard intended to achieve an “overall positive reputational impact for the UAE,” such as advertising claims about an Emirati government company that produces some of its aluminum using solar energy.
In September this year, documents show that Masdar, an Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy company also led by Jaber, hired three PR strategists for an undisclosed amount “to support the UAE United in their role as host country in 2023 for COP28”.
Hedges believes the UAE is less interested in divesting from oil and finding alternative energy resources than its communications might suggest. “They can’t afford it, and the message is this: You expect us to compete on an equal footing with developed economies, which is not possible without oil. There must be active policies in place, but the transition away from oil is in no way apparent and there is no serious intention to go any further,” she said.
“Egypt cannot do much without the help of the UAE,” he added. “It’s just another way of trying to help maintain international legitimacy for both countries. It’s another platform that can be used to say, ‘Look at all the good we’re doing, not just what we’re doing ourselves, but how we’re helping our allies within the region.’”