This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire
The annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – better known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) – took place over the past few weeks in Dubai. Neither the conference nor the hosts were without controversy.
Despite the best intentions of COP28 member states and climate champions, the summit was regrettably tainted by the words and deeds of an authoritarian host, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and a conference president, Dr. Sultan al Jaber, most notable for serving as Minister of Industry and Technology and heading the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), which provides about 3 percent of the world’s oil.
Between the host nation’s determination to remain a major exporter of crude, justifiable reputation for environmental degradation through fossil fuel production,and notoriety for regularly appearing near the bottom of international rankings for human rights and press freedoms, it was always plainly obvious that UAE leaders would harbor plans to undertake a public relations campaign to rehabilitate their own global standing, never intending to work toward setting the world on a path to a more sustainable future.
The ploy failed. Worse, the political fallout was a distraction from the issues that should have been a priority. By appointing one of the world’s foremost oil exporters COP28 president, the global climate change conference diminished its own credibility and the pragmatic actions they could have advocated to reduce and eventually phase out fossil fuels.
It should have been evident as soon as BBC dropped the bombshell claim that the UAE was using COP28 to advance its own material interests by leveraging its “role as the host of UN climate talks as an opportunity to strike oil and gas deals.” The exposé broke the additional news that “leaked briefing documents revealed plans to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations.”
The files, acquired by independent journalists collaborating with the BBC at the Centre for Climate Reporting, were assembled by the host nation’s COP28 team and revealed plans for discussions with a minimum of 27 foreign governments in anticipation of the climate summit.
The documents disclosed that the UAE not only assembled talking points for discussions with countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kenya but also shamelessly prepared information on commercial prospects for its state renewable energy company, Masdar, in advance of these meetings.
Were this insufficiently demoralizing, prior to the start of the climate change summit, CNN reported that “by claiming in the days before the UN-backed talks that there is ‘no science’ that says phasing out fossil fuels is necessary to keep global warming under a critical threshold,” COP28 president Dr. Sultan al Jaber undermined the very premise of the global forum he was convening. The remarks, which al Jaber claimed were misinterpreted, only served to further the impression that COP28 was all for show and could not be taken seriously.
And it was not just climate hypocrisy that COP28 leaders hoped world would ignore, COP28’s host country hoped its human rights record would also be brushed aside.Last year, Human Rights Watch, a Nobel Prize recipient and one of the world’s most prominent independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, issued deserved criticism to the UAE for decades of problems concerning freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests and detainee abuse, migrant workers and forcible deportation, and women’s rights. The condemnation was hardly surprising given that political opposition parties are outlawed in the UAE, media sources are tightly managed, online and on-street digital surveillance is ever-present, and women’s rights are all but non-existent.
Toward the meeting’s close, former US Vice President and climate activist Al Gore, long at the forefront of the environmental movement, weighed in with a dismal take on the gathering’s outcome: “COP28 is now on the verge of complete failure. The world desperately needs to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but this obsequious draft reads as if OPEC dictated it word for word. … It is deeply offensive to all who have taken this process seriously.”
No host country is perfect, but it is clear that the federation of seven emirates on the Arabian Peninsula wanted the world to trust its ears and not its eyes when it came to its COP28 declarations. This is a pity because the annual climate gathering is a credible global summit where meaningful work should be undertaken. It is clear that a great deal more could have been accomplished if a different host country and COP28 president had been selected.
COP29 should aim to do better. It could not do worse.
Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the associate dean of the College of Public Affairs and past executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on X@ProfSheehan