COP 28 trade deal scandal highlights presidency’s conflict of interest
Leaked documents suggest that COP president Sultan Al Jaber used his role to strike new oil and gas deals but also attempts to gain influence in renewables markets
Just days before the official kick-off of COP 28, this year’s COP presidency made the headlines for all the wrong reasons: Leaked documents reveal that COP 28 president Sultan Al Jaber, who is also the head of UAE’s national oil company has used COP 28 meetings to pitch oil and gas trade deals to a several governments.
The dossier, obtained by the Centre for Climate Reporting and seen by Net Zero Investor, appears to show that the COP presidency brought up trade deals in meetings with 15 nations, including China, Germany and Brazil.
While the documents have not been independently verified, they shine a spotlight on a key challenge of this year’s COP summit. While fundraising for the energy transition will be a key theme throughout the two-week event, the code of conduct at COP summits prevents elected officials from seeking personal gain.
Securing new business for firms led by Al Jaber appeared to have dominated the agenda in at least 15 meetings with government officials from Brazil, China, Kenya, Germany, the Netherlands, France and others.
These deals were not exclusively focused on fossil fuels, they also include significant fundraising efforts for renewable energy.
This raises renewed questions over conflicts of interest for the current COP presidency as Sultan Al Jaber is also CEO for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and chair of the energy company Masdar.
“Actively monitoring opportunities”
The leaked documents reveal that the COP28 presidency used meetings with senior government officials to represent the interests of ADNOC and Masdar in identifying new business opportunities.
For example, a meeting with the Brazilian minister for Environment Marina Silva outlines that ADNOC requests her support to facilitate a call with the relevant Brazilian ministers to discuss investments in Brazil, including an offer on petrochemicals firms Braskem.
Brazil is one of the countries that are currently ramping up new oil and gas production. By the end of the decade, it aims to become the world’s fourth largest oil producer by the end of the decade. Whilst production is heavily concentrated in the hands of state-owned Petrobas, companies like ADNOC appear to get a foot in the door of the production process.
Similarly, al Jaber’s team appears to have used meetings with Chinese government officials not only to discuss Masdar’s acquisition of renewable energy projects in China, but also to flag liquified natural gas deals in Mozambique, Canada and Australia.
The documents also suggest that COP 28 officials had prior knowledge to the UK government’s U turn on net zero. “The UK government is set to announce a number of changes to its climate policies in the coming days” the document warned, briefing on the planned delays of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and delays to the phaseout of oil and gas boilers among others.
The documents also reveal a meeting with UK government minister Graham Stuart in order to attract investments from Shell and BP in ADNOC entities.
In meetings with German government officials, the COP presidency raised opportunities to invest in offshore wind projects in the North- and Baltic Seas and the ambition to supply up to a quarter of Germany’s hydrogen demands.
Speaking to Mexican government officials, the COP 28 presidency also raised the prospect of trading opportunities in liquified natural gas. “We look forward to working with you on initiatives of mutual interests."
In a meeting with the Dutch minister for climate, investment opportunities for Masdar in Dutch offshore wind were raised. “Let us assign focal points from your teams to build on this meeting and explore potential opportunities for Masdar to invest in Dutch upcoming offshore wind tenders” the document said.
Hedging their bets?
For investors, be it fund managers or asset owners who plan to attend the COP 28 summit, the leaked documents reveal a key challenge: In a world where key investment decisions are dominated by sovereign wealth funds and state-owned energy companies, there appears to be very little room for shareholder engagement and stewardship efforts.
At the same time, the leaked documents also offer a crucial insight into the direction of travel. Whilst Al Jaber’s officials appear to have used their role in multiple occasions to strike new fossil fuel deals, and remains reluctant to agree on a phase out of fossil fuels, there also appears to be a significant push to into the rapidly growing market for renewable energy.
ADNOC plans to invest at least $15bn in hydrogen projects by the end of the decade and the UAE hopes to produce 15 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2050.
The firm shows no intention on planning to ditch fossil fuels. Just last week it emerged that it plans to acquire Germany’s largest crude oil and gas producer Wintershall Dea.
At the very least, it indicates that UAE officials who are also at the helm of one of the world’s largest oil producers are hedging their bets.