Brilliant: a Cop28 to save the planet – staged by oil barons who imperil it

01 12 2023 | 14:08Marina Hyde / THE GUARDIAN

The UAE will have its moment of glory while the UK press worries more about petrostate money buying the Telegraph

“Apetrostate hosting a climate conference” sounds like a situation shouted out at an improv night, after they’ve done the ones about a fox hosting a henhouse and Jimmy Savile hosting Jim’ll Fix It. Arguably, though, the fact the president of this week’s Cop28 climate conference in Dubai is also the CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ state oil firm crosses the fine line between mirthless joke and extinction-level distress signal. Happily for Sultan Al Jaber, this metaphorical flare will be obscured by all the actual flares caused by oil companies still cheerily burning waste gas across the Gulf. Maybe the various Emirati governments will order the oil firms to lay off this toxic practice – ineffectually outlawed by the UAE 20 years ago – for the duration of the conference, a bit like the Chinese government ordered many Beijing factories to shut down during the 2008 Olympics so that a pea-souper didn’t prevent enjoyment of the dressage. If not, international dignitaries flying into Cop28 on private planes will be able to look out of their windows at the oilfields and consider how nice it is to be welcomed by a roaring fire.

To the jolly old UAE, then, which can own our football clubs but not our newspapers, which should rather be squired by the right kind of meddling foreigners (Rupert Murdoch), criminal foreigners (Conrad Black), morality-vacuum island fort dwellers (the Barclays) or basic non-doms (the Rothermeres). Yes, the week’s other Emirati plotline is the hokey-cokey over the sale of the Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and Spectator titles, which look like they could be at risk of effectively going to an investment fund backed by the Abu Dhabi ruling family. At present, only a half-arsed government probe stands between civilisation and a desert ski-resort corporate retreat at which former Telegraph editor Charles Moore would be seated heavily down-table from Pep Guardiola, and possibly even Jack Grealish.

Speaking of Lord Moore, can it really be only two years since Boris Johnson was leaving his own climate conference early by private jet, in order to have dinner with this longtime climate change denialist, who sought to persuade his former Telegraph employee that it was definitely worth going all-out to save Moore’s friend Owen Paterson from a minor wrist-slap from the parliamentary standards commissioner? Why, I do believe it can. Charles turned out to be wrong about that, and the resulting shitstorm was the beginning of the end of Johnson’s premiership. This week, Moore was railing against the possibility of the Telegraph titles insidiously becoming paid mouthpieces of a government, which somehow means so much more from someone who once refused to pay his licence fee to the BBC but wanted Johnson to make him chairman of it.

Either way it says quite a lot about the displacement activities of the age that this particular media story is currently garnering more feverish interest than Thursday’s conference, supposedly convened to head off an existential threat to life as much of the world knows it. If only they could make the climate crisis more like Succession, maybe it would pique the attention of the Telegraph’s somewhat distracted below-the-line commenters. Not that I didn’t have a huge amount of time for one judgment that “GB News will be the last redoubt of the free press if Islam buys the Telegraph”.

How do the omens for Cop28 look? Aside from all of the above, it emerges that protests at the event have been “approved”, in that authoritarian way that the form book suggests means they will take place in a fenced-off somewhere out near the airport. Joe Biden isn’t even going to turn up to it, meanwhile, though it was only a couple of weeks ago that his climate envoy, John Kerry, was declaring it “an experiment” to put an oil and gas-producing state in charge of a climate conference. The experiment certainly seems to be grippingly under way.

In fact, Cop28 seems to be taking on the character of one of those late-stage Fifa tournaments, where World Cups are really just an international bribery exchange to which the football merely serves as the backdrop. How else to explain Monday’s revelation by the BBC and non-profit Centre for Climate Reporting that Al Jaber and the UAE planned to use the conference to pitch and promote oil and gas deals to foreign governments including China, Brazil, Germany and Egypt? We have to say “planned”, because Cop28 spokesfolk now say the documents detailing the strategy “were not used by Cop28 in meetings” and that “private meetings are private”. No doubt, no doubt.

Even so, Al Jaber’s people seem quite upset that this has all come out. Amusingly, even the Telegraph reported the story, having previously not really regarded such things as newsworthy, but presumably having a vested interest now it is itself the target of a vested interest. For what it’s worth, I agree with Charles Moore that a UAE state-backed takeover of the Telegraph titles would obviously be a bad idea, not least because it would mean a tragic farewell to the Telegraph’s fearless climate change coverage (27 November-28 November 2023. Taken too soon).

But while the upper reaches of the Conservative party agonise over whether to come down on that side, or simply to admit that selling everything to rapacious offshore interests is one of the few things the UK still does well, the rest of us can only await Cop28 getting under way on Thursday. It is – sorry to go out on a limb here – the slightly more important long-term event.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist


Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters