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UAE hired lobbyists to burnish green credentials ahead of Cop28

Abu Dhabi went on an email blitz informing US lawmakers of its selection to host the UN climate conference
Emiratis at this year's COP27 in Egypt
Delegates stand by the UAE pavilion during the Cop27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort city, on 9 November 2022 (AFP)

The UAE lavished funds promoting itself as a green energy hub as the host of next year's UN climate conference and before this year's Cop27 in Egypt. 

Following an announcement last year that the UAE would host Cop28, big-name lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld was paid $2.85m to inform Republican and Democratic lawmakers of the selection, according to The Guardian.

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The firm went on an email blitz, alerting a diverse group of offices about the decision, including the Environmental Council to Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and top Republicans Lindsey Graham and Lisa Murkowski, according to federal documents viewed by Middle East Eye.  

In addition, the UAE also hired lobbying and PR firm Fleishman-Hillard to promote the Emirates' climate agenda ahead of the announcement that it would host Cop28.

Between September and October 2021, the firm conducted media relations to "amplify" the UAE's climate initiatives and facilitate interviews with ministers to discuss climate change and the country's pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, according to federal documents reviewed by MEE.

Solar at home, hydrocarbons abroad

The UAE has poured billions of dollars into clean energy projects and is already home to the largest single-site solar park in the world, even as it continues to invest in fossil fuels.

Analysts tell MEE that Gulf states see little inconsistency in investing in both sectors.

"The more Gulf states can reduce domestic demand for hydrocarbons, the more they have available to export at higher prices abroad," Jim Krane, an energy expert and fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute, told MEE.

Cash-strapped Egypt, which is hosting this year’s Cop27 at the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, has sought to cut back on electricity consumption nationwide, with the aim of freeing up more natural gas for export in Europe.

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Gulf energy producers have been more empowered at this year's climate conference, with the war in Ukraine reviving concerns about the traditional energy sector.

In a sign of the UAE's sway over this year's event, hosted by a close Middle Eastern ally, more than 1,000 Emirati delegates attended Cop27, compared with 176 last year, according to data compiled by Corporate Accountability, Global Witness and Corporate Europe Observatory. 

Seventy members of the delegations were tied to the hydrocarbon industry. Among the group was Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.

Like other Gulf leaders, Jaber has sought to reshape the narrative on climate policy, warning that a failure to invest in fossil fuels before cleaner alternatives were readily available would create a "recipe for disaster".

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