The United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the world’s wealthiest oil states, is facing intense criticism as it launches a comprehensive public relations and lobbying campaign to position itself as an environmental leader in advance of hosting the United Nations’ upcoming climate talks in November. However, lawmakers and environmentalists in the United States and Europe are casting doubt on the sincerity of the UAE’s commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels, given its oil-rich economy.
Controversy Surrounds UAE’s Public Relations Campaign Ahead of UN Climate Talks
Recent reports reveal that the UAE government has entered into and abruptly terminated long-term contracts with multiple strategic communications firms while offering substantial salaries to seasoned PR executives to bolster their efforts.
These actions have raised concerns and sparked questions about the UAE’s true intentions and its ability to align its plans for expanding oil and gas drilling with the global objective of reducing reliance on fossil fuels, which are the primary drivers of global warming.
Over the past decade, the UAE has spent more than $1 million on direct climate-focused advocacy and invested millions more in advisory firms and think tanks to enhance its green credentials.
This level of investment in shaping its image ahead of the annual climate negotiations is unparalleled among host nations. In comparison, the United Kingdom, which hosted the 2021 U.N. summit in Glasgow, Scotland, did not disclose hiring any American PR or lobbying firms for climate advocacy.
Critics have particularly targeted Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the UAE’s climate envoy and CEO of its state-owned oil company, who will preside over this year’s climate talks. Al-Jaber’s dual role as a representative of the fossil fuel industry and the president of the summit has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest and a lack of genuine commitment to meaningful climate action.
UAE has spent more than $1 million on direct climate-focused advocacy and invested millions more in advisory firms and think tanks to enhance its green credentials.
As the leader responsible for shaping the initial negotiating text and final deal, al-Jaber faces mounting pressure to demonstrate a departure from business-as-usual practices.
Although the UAE has made pledges to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the midcentury and raise $20 billion for renewable energy projects by 2035, it is concurrently investing over $100 billion to ramp up its oil production by almost 1 million barrels per day in the next four years.
The oil and gas industry directly accounts for 30% of the UAE’s economy, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data, raising concerns about conflicting priorities and a lack of alignment between rhetoric and action.
The oil and gas industry directly accounts for 30% of the UAE’s economy, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data
In response to the criticisms, a spokesperson for al-Jaber emphasized the UAE’s commitment to climate action and highlighted the diverse team assembled for COP 28, comprising UAE and global experts in various fields.
The spokesperson affirmed the nation’s recognition of the climate crisis’s urgency and the need for immediate and meaningful climate action, citing the UAE’s vulnerability due to scarce water and food resources and its location in one of the hottest regions on Earth.
As climate negotiators gather in Bonn, Germany, for preliminary discussions leading up to the November-December summit, scrutiny of al-Jaber’s role intensifies. Questions persist regarding the UAE’s true dedication to combating climate change and its ability to lead a conference seeking substantial progress.
With environmentalists and lawmakers demanding tangible action, the success of the UAE’s public relations campaign and its reputation as an environmental leader hang in the balance.