A comprehensive list of “touchy and sensitive issues” for the United Arab Emirates, which is running the next UN climate summit, has been revealed in a document leaked to the Guardian.
The document sets out the government-approved “strategic messages” to be used in response to media requests about the issues, which range from the UAE’s increasing production of oil and gas to people trafficking.
The document begins with three pages of “Cop28 UAE key messages” and “narrative points”. These contain no references to fossil fuels, oil or gas but do mention renewable energy and hydrogen.
Global experts are clear that cutting fossil fuel burning is the largest and most urgently needed action to curb heating. They are also clear that new fossil fuel developments are incompatible with net zero emissions by 2050, and that most of existing reserves must stay in the ground to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
The Guardian revealed in April that the UAE had the third biggest net-zero-busting plans for oil and gas expansion in the world. The leaked document, which highlights “increase in production capacity v climate ambition” as an issue, is understood to have been created after this date.
The key Cop28 messages include: “We need to reduce emissions in the systems we depend on today.” A former UN climate chief in May denounced as “dangerous” a focus only on emissions, rather than the burning of fossil fuels.
Other sensitive climate-related issues listed are that the president of Cop28, Sultan Al Jaber, is also the chief executive of the UAE national oil company, Adnoc, a dual role that has been heavily criticised. The document also lists Adnoc’s failure to disclose its emissions or publish a sustainability report since 2016. “Adnoc is currently conducting necessary studies,” the document says.
Its defence of Al Jaber states: “Dr Sultan’s full circle career [in energy, climate and diplomacy] gives him the expertise needed to constructively engage, disrupt, and unite the very sectors needed to achieve meaningful action.”
The only mention of fossil fuels in the lengthy document is in a section titled “UAE as a hydrocarbon economy (fossil fuel lobbying)”. The response listed is that “the UAE is helping to build the energy system of tomorrow while reducing the carbon intensity of oil and gas”.
The carbon intensity of oil or gas is the CO2 emitted per unit in producing the fuel and does not include the far greater emissions released when the fuel is burned.
“Climate ambition” is listed as an issue and the document notes that the UAE increased the ambition of its pledges recently. However, the pledge would still allow UAE’s carbon emissions to increase up to 2030 and the independent Climate Action Tracker consortium rates the UAE’s plans as “insufficient”.
The UAE’s emissions per person, among the highest in the world, are also listed as an issue. “We recognise that we have significant room for improvement, which is why our leadership has set us on a path to net zero by 2050,” the document says.
Pascoe Sabido, at Corporate Europe Observatory and the co-coordinator of the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition of more than 450 organisations, said: “These pages of tediously crafted talking points rip the green facade off of this fossil fuel presidency. Anyone who reads this should have alarm bells ringing.
“The UN climate talks have become an oil and gas industry trade show, not the flagship for climate action. An entire industry has successfully co-opted the process and is leading us in a death spiral to climate catastrophe. How far are we prepared to go to make sure that doesn’t happen?”
The document also lists responses to a long series of sensitive issues unrelated to climate and energy including: money laundering, war crimes in Yemen, political prisoners, surveillance and spying, LGBTQIA+ community, freedom of expression, women’s rights and people trafficking. Homosexual sex is illegal in the UAE and journalists have to be registered with the state.
Nicholas McGeehan, at the human rights group FairSquare, said: “It’s a remarkably detailed document but the problem for the UAE on the human rights front is that they can’t actually produce any compelling response to the very large and highly credible body of evidence against them.
“The key takeaway from this document is that the UAE cannot be taken at its word. Human rights activists have known this for a very long time, and it is critical that climate activists recognise the UAE’s duplicity.”
The purpose of the document, it says, is “to build an understanding of the most important issues raised by the international media against the UAE … The ultimate aim is to improve the reputational image of the UAE.”
The document says: “It is mandatory that all government entities adhere to informing and getting the final approval from the National Media Office before any actual response [to the media].”
The Cop28 office, National Media Office and Adnoc all failed to respond to requests for comment.
Al Jaber told the Guardian in an interview in July: “Phasing down fossil fuels is inevitable and it is essential – it’s going to happen. What I’m trying to say is you can’t unplug the world from the current energy system before you build the new energy system. Transitions don’t happen overnight, transition takes time.”
He did not specify a timescale for the phasing down of fossil fuels.
The Guardian revealed in June that Adnoc had been able to read emails to and from the Cop28 climate summit office and was consulted on how to respond to a media inquiry.
Also revealed was an army of fake social media accounts promoting and defending the UAE’s hosting of Cop28.
In May, Al Jaber was accused of attempting to “greenwash” his image after members of his team edited Wikipedia pages.