According to recent discoveries, the UAE employed a variety of malafide practices to improve its image in the run-up to COP28. These practices have ensnared COP28 as a result of the vested interests the powerful gulf state plan to achieve. These practices include breaching confidentiality by intruding into official COP28 operations, boosting its PR and lobbying efforts, engaging in ‘greenwashing’ through disputed Wikipedia edits, and utilizing phony social media identities and defenders. Concerns have been raised about the potential hazards linked with the UAE’s COP28 hosting rights, as well as the implications on the future and development of COP28. This report investigates the controversial ways the UAE has adopted to promote the version of COP28 that benefits its oil empire and soft image globally.
Breach of Confidentiality: Intrusion of UAE Oil Company in COP28 Operations
According to The Guardian, the United Arab Emirates’ national oil firm ADNOC had access to emails sent and received by the COP28 climate conference office and was even briefed on how to handle media queries. As the UAE is slated to host the UN climate summit in November and Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, serves as COP28’s president, this disclosure has sparked controversy. These discoveries have been referred to by lawmakers as “explosive” and a “scandal.”
Initially, the COP28 office claimed that its email system was separate from ADNOC’s, but technical analysis conducted by experts revealed that both entities shared email servers. Following inquiries by The Guardian, the COP28 office swiftly switched to a different server on Monday. The dual role of Sultan Al Jaber has faced criticism, particularly from Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief, who described his approach as “dangerous.” When The Guardian reached out to the COP28 office for a response to these comments without mentioning ADNOC, the reply contained the text “ADNOC classification: internal.”
This shocking revelation that an oil and gas company had such access to the core of an organization responsible for coordinating the phase-out of fossil fuels has caused outrage. French MEP Manon Aubry described it as an “absolute scandal,” comparing it to a tobacco multinational overseeing the internal work of the World Health Organization. Dr. Richard Clayton, an expert in traceability from the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, explained that the COP28 server forwarded all emails to the oil company’s server for sending, allowing them to scrutinize all outgoing emails. Professor Alan Woodward, a computer security expert from the University of Surrey, added that both the COP28 and ADNOC emails used the same primary external email service, with their MX record pointing to the same Proofpoint server.
These findings raise significant concerns about the integrity and independence of COP28. The fact that a state oil company had access to confidential communications within the organization responsible for addressing the climate crisis undermines trust and transparency. It also highlights potential conflicts of interest and the ability to make unbiased decisions regarding climate policy.
Expanding PR Horizon & Lobbying Strategy:
The UAE has also taken an unprecedented step by hiring public relations and lobbying agencies to enhance its image as the host of COP28. One US PR firm, FleishmanHillard, drafted letters proposing the attendance of Emirati ministers at conferences and events in July, emphasizing the UAE’s hosting of COP28 and involvement in COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. Additionally, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld reached out to US politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who supported environmental policies or had positions related to fossil fuels, informing them about the UAE’s upcoming hosting of COP28 soon after it was announced.
The Emirates’ eagerness to showcase its involvement in COP27 and its hosting of COP28 ahead of the conferences suggests its significant political influence over Egypt and its aspiration to be seen as a leading global partner in environmental matters, despite being a petrostate. Filings with the US Department of Justice reveal that the UAE engaged with media organizations to enhance the perception of its climate action and targeted senators and congresspeople with diverse voting records on climate crisis and fossil fuels legislation. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld received $2.85 million from the UAE embassy in Washington DC for contacting politicians to inform them about the UAE hosting COP28. This included reaching out to senators such as Jeff Merkley and other Democrats known for their efforts to combat wildfires and address environmental damage caused by the climate crisis. The lobbying efforts also targeted individuals supportive of the fossil fuel industry, including Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who expressed skepticism about the need to curtail the industry due to the climate crisis, and senator James Inhofe, who famously dismissed human-made climate change as a hoax. Inhofe went further to criticize the US Environmental Protection Agency and consider it an activist organization burdening farmers and fossil fuel producers unnecessarily.
The UAE’s lobbying activities surrounding COP28 are in addition to existing contracts worth at least $10 million with US-based firms for lobbying and public relations purposes aimed at improving perceptions of the UAE or reinforcing political and economic ties. Reports indicate that the Emirates escalated its lobbying and PR efforts related to climate issues since September of the previous year. This included agreements totaling at least $126,500 to achieve a general positive impact on the UAE’s reputation, including advertising claims about an Emirati government company’s use of solar power in aluminum production.
The discovery of the UAE’s engagement in hiring PR firms and conducting lobbying activities to enhance its image raises substantial apprehensions regarding the integrity and independence of COP28.
Wikipedia ‘Greenwashing’ Controversy:
Sultan Al Jaber, the president of Cop28, has faced accusations of engaging in “greenwashing” tactics after it was discovered that members of his team edited Wikipedia pages to downplay his position as CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The edits made by Al Jaber’s team and associates include inserting a quote from an editorial that praised him as “precisely the kind of ally the climate movement needs,” while also attempting to remove mention of a major oil pipeline deal he signed in 2019. The Centre for Climate Reporting and The Guardian exposed these actions. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, criticized the involvement of oil companies and their CEOs in global climate conferences, accusing them of using Wikipedia to conceal their blatant hypocrisy.
The Wikipedia page of the climate summit includes a quote from Amnesty International questioning Al Jaber’s ability to act as an impartial mediator in climate talks due to the plans of the company he leads to contribute to further climate damage. However, edits made by Al Jaber’s team and a user paid by Masdar, the UAE government-owned clean energy company, have sought to emphasize his role at Masdar and promote his clean energy initiatives. The user added information about Al Jaber’s goal to expand Masdar’s clean energy capacity to 100 GW by 2030, positioning it as the second-largest renewable investor globally.
It is crucial for stakeholders to closely monitor the situation and advocate for transparency and accountability to ensure that COP conferences remain a platform for genuine collaboration and effective action on climate change
Fake Social Media Accounts & Defenders:
An online network of phony social media profiles supporting the UAE’s COP28 leadership was discovered by disinformation expert Marc Owen Jones. These accounts sent coordinated statements in support of the UAE, Jaber, and COP28 using photographs that were either stolen or created by AI. Concerns regarding their veracity are raised by the use of the same content and the simultaneous establishment of accounts.
Marc Owen Jones, a professor of Middle East studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, specializing in disinformation and digital media research, detected this campaign following the controversial news of Jaber’s appointment. Jones has identified approximately 100 fake accounts and 30,000 tweets that consistently defend the UAE, Jaber, and COP28. But how does Jones determine that these posts are not from genuine individuals? “There are several indicators. One of the most conspicuous ones is that they all tweet identical content,” Jones