Cop28 president denies on eve of summit he abused his position to sign oil deals

Sultan Al Jaber calls allegations false as the United Arab Emirates prepares to host the biggest Cop meeting yet

Sultan Al Jaber, the president of the UN Cop28 climate summit, has hit back strongly at reports he abused his position to try to sign oil deals with other governments, as the United Arab Emirates prepares to host the biggest Cop meeting yet.

Al Jaber’s role is to act as an “honest broker” for the 190-plus governments gathering at the global climate talks, charged with leading them to a successful conclusion. He is also the chief executive of UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc, and campaigners say the two roles are in conflict.

This week the Centre for Climate Reporting, an investigative journalism group, and the BBC released documents that appeared to show that meetings the Cop28 presidency had with other governments included “talking points” about the potential sale of oil and gas by Adnoc.

Speaking to a small group of journalists in Dubai on the eve of the conference on Wednesday, Al Jaber said: “These allegations are false. Not true, incorrect, not accurate. It’s an attempt to undermine the work of the Cop28 presidency … Never ever did I see these talking points or ever used such talking points in my discussions.”

He added: “Do you think the UAE or myself need the Cop or the Cop presidency to go and establish better deals or commercial relationships? This country over the past 50 years has been built around its ability to build bridges and create relationships and partnerships.”

Campaigners were unsatisfied with the response. Alice Harrison, the fossil fuel campaign lead at Global Witness, said: “The international climate process has been hijacked by the oil and gas industry. This leak must be the final nail in the coffin of the long debunked idea that the fossil fuel industry can play any part in the solution to the crisis that it created.”

More than 160 heads of state and government are expected to arrive in Dubai on Thursday and Friday to try to put the world on track to meet the target of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels. King Charles will give an opening speech on Friday, and the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, will also attend, as will Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, and presidents including Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and India’s Narendra Modi.

The pope has cancelled his visit for health reasons, while Joe Biden and Xi Jinping of China are expected to stay away, leaving their envoys John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua to meet in Dubai instead.

Nearly 100,000 delegates are registered to Cop28, and 400,000 visitors are expected at the “green zone” area of business and technology exhibitions adjoining the summit.

Al Jaber said the Cop was the most important since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. From next Monday, when the world leaders will have departed, ministers and high-level officials will carry on a further eight days of negotiations over climate finance for poor countries, making the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to stay within the 1.5C limit, and whether to phase out fossil fuels.

Pa’olelei Luteru, Samoas ambassador to the UN and the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), told the Guardian that the 1.5C limit was the fundamental issue for his member governments. Scientists predict that above 1.5C, sea level rises and storm surges will render many small islands and coastal areas around the world uninhabitable and worsen heatwaves, droughts and floods.

“We have to hang everything on 1.5C,” said Luteru. “For us, this is about our survival.”

The world is currently about 1.2C above preindustrial levels, and this year has seen record temperatures, Some scientists have suggested that hopes of making the emissions cuts necessary for 1.5C have now vanished and that the Cop talks should reflect that. Luteru rebuffed this, pointing to the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that the 1.5C target was still just feasible.

Some countries might prefer to give up the 1.5C target as an excuse for making less stringent emissions cuts. “We’ve got to be careful because the reality is that there are also special interest groups out there,” Luteru said. “They will say what they say to satisfy their own constituents. But we are steadfast in our view that we must keep to 1.5C. Because the science has told us that anything above that is going to affect our survival.”

At Cop28, governments and large oil and gas companies are also expected to pledge major cuts in emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that comes largely from oil and gas operations and agriculture. World leaders will also sign a declaration on food, as production around the world will come under increasing pressure from the climate crisis. They are also likely to approve a target of tripling renewable energy generation by 2030.

But major points of contention could still scupper agreement. Rich countries have agreed to set up a loss and damage fund for the rescue and rehabilitation of poor and vulnerable communities stricken by extreme weather, but as yet there is almost no money in it.

Harjeet Singh, the head of global political strategy at the Climate Action Network, said: “The operationalisation of the loss and damage fund is a non-negotiable priority to urgently support those already suffering from climate-induced disasters. The financial pledges must go beyond setting up the secretariat to actual fund allocation, adequately supporting those who are losing homes, livelihoods and income.”

There is also no agreement over fossil fuels. The UK, the US and the EU want strong language in the final text on “phasing out unabated fossil fuels”, which would allow a limited role for using carbon capture and storage technology. But campaigners would like to excise the word unabated, while many other governments would like to weaken the pledge to “phasing down”.

Most important of all for the 1.5C target, the current emissions-cutting plans of the world’s biggest emitters are nowhere near adequate for the scale of the crisis. Scientists say emissions must be cut by nearly half compared with 2010 levels by the end of this decade, but emissions have continued to rise, reaching record levels this year. Without much stronger action and policies within the next few years, the chance of sticking to the limit will be gone.

Simon Stiell, the UN’s climate chief, said: “We need a clear signal, based on what is negotiated, that there will be a climate action surge.”

None of the G20 governments, responsible for 80% of global emissions, are likely to make major new pledges at this conference. John Kerry, speaking to journalists in Dubai, said: “I feel confident that we will make progress [at Cop28]. The question is: how much progress?”


 Photograph: Kamran Jebreili/AP