COP28 President, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, is also CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty
September 22, 2023
Published in partnership with The Guardian
Senior executives from the UAE’s national oil company are working on Cop28 as the country ramps up its PR campaign ahead of the major United Nations climate summit later this year, leaked internal records show.
Two PR professionals from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) are identified as providing “additional support” to the team running the summit during its trip to the UN General Assembly this week, according to a Cop28 communications strategy document obtained by the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR). It adds to growing evidence of the blurred lines between the UAE’s Cop28 team and its fossil fuel industry.
In January, Adnoc’s CEO Sultan Al Jaber, who also serves as the UAE’s Climate Change Special Envoy, was announced as Cop28 president, which is being hosted in Dubai in November and December. Since then, multiple reports have raised concerns about ties between his two teams. The Cop28 team has previously stated there are “clear governance guidelines in place to ensure the team can operate entirely independently from any other entity”.
“Al Jaber has such difficulty separating his job as fossil fuel CEO from his job overseeing COP28”
Pascoe Sabido, a researcher from Corporate Observatory Europe who co-coordinates the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition, described Adnoc’s role alongside the Cop28 team as “wholly inappropriate” and questioned whether the fossil fuel company was “pulling the strings behind the scenes”.
Earlier this year, CCR and the Guardian revealed that several members of Adnoc staff had taken up important roles at the summit, including as climate negotiators. Some had even been seconded from ongoing roles with the oil company. In June, the Guardian reported that Adnoc and Cop28 shared an IT system and Adnoc staff were able to read emails sent to and from the Cop28 team. Adnoc had also been consulted on how to respond to a media inquiry about the summit. At the time, the Cop28 team insisted that the emails were held on a “standalone, firewall-protected network”.
The two Adnoc communications executives named in the leaked document – Philip Robinson and Paloma Berenguer – have a combined 28 years of experience in the fossil fuel industry, according to their LinkedIn accounts. They both previously worked for Shell before joining Adnoc.
A COP28 spokesperson said that the two executives had not travelled to New York for the UN General Assembly and had not been involved in communications activities there.
“The COP28 team regularly receives queries not related to COP28 that it directs to the appropriate UAE entities to answer,” the spokesperson continued.
“They’re bringing along his oil company’s PR pros for backup”
The document lays out the Cop28 team’s public relations strategy and key talking points for Al Jaber and senior team members, who are attending the UN General Assembly in New York City this week. The meeting will “set the tone, inform the climate agenda and shape the climate narrative in the lead up to Cop28,” the document states. Listed alongside the two Adnoc executives is a roster of more than thirty people who are helping manage Al Jaber’s and the team’s public appearances.
The leaked document also reveals that the major American PR agency, Edelman, is back working on the summit, despite reports that its contract with Cop28 had been abruptly terminated in April. Edelman has previously been criticised for its work with fossil fuel clients.
The Cop28 team and Edelman are hoping that as world leaders gather in New York City they will be able to attract support from a host of influential figures, which they have dubbed “validators” in the internal strategy document. Targets include Microsoft-founder Bill Gates, German climate envoy and former head of Greenpeace, Jennifer Morgan, and BlackRock’s Larry Fink. Al Jaber was pictured with Fink on Monday.
“Not only is Sultan Al Jaber’s Cop28 team enlisting a PR giant with links to the oil and tobacco industries, they’re also bringing along his oil company’s PR pros for backup,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told CCR. “It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that Al Jaber has such difficulty separating his job as fossil fuel CEO from his job overseeing COP28.”
Speaking at the UN on Wednesday, Al Jaber reiterated that a “phase down” of fossil fuels is “inevitable” and “essential”. But he stopped short of calling for a complete “phase out”, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres insisted was necessary to abate global heating.
“The fossil fuel industry has consistently and repeatedly pushed back against a managed phase out of all fossil fuels”
“Actions are falling abysmally short,” Guterres said. “To stand a fighting chance of limiting global temperature rise, we must phase out oil, coal and gas in a fair and equitable way.”
The leaked communications plan makes no mention of a phase down or phase out of fossil fuels. Instead, it focuses on messaging around “fast-tracking the energy transition” by boosting global renewables capacity, reducing emissions from polluting industries and providing finance for green investments. As CEO of Adnoc, Al Jaber is currently overseeing a major expansion of the company’s oil and gas production.
“The Cop28 Presidency has consistently stated that the phase-down of fossil fuels is inevitable, as part of a just and orderly energy transition, and it must go hand-in-hand with a rapid phase up of zero carbon alternatives,” a Cop28 spokesperson said. “This position was reiterated on the floor of the United Nations.”
Adnoc did not respond to requests for comment.
“The fossil fuel industry has consistently and repeatedly pushed back against a managed phase out of all fossil fuels because it means the end of the road for their core business,” Sabido said. He called for measures to protect the UN from the “pervasive” influence of the fossil fuel industry and other oil-producing nations.
“Al Jaber and Adnoc have been part of this. But let’s not pretend this is Al Jaber alone.”