The United Arab Emirates began paying high-profile advertising and lobbying agencies to green its image ahead of hosting this year’s climate talks. Then the trouble began.
One of the world’s wealthiest oil states is engaged in a wide-ranging public relations and lobbying campaign to cast itself as an environmental leader before it hosts the United Nations’ next climate talks in November.
But the United Arab Emirates’ efforts are colliding with a barrage of criticism from lawmakers and environmentalists in both the U.S. and Europe, who scoff at the idea that the oil-flush nation is committed to helping shift the world off planet-heating fossil fuels.
Amid the negative headlines, the UAE’s government has signed — and abruptly terminated — long-term contracts with at least two strategic communications firms, even as it offers fat pay packages to veteran PR executives to assist with the effort, according to interviews and Justice Department documents.
The communications offensive, which began as far back as 2019, seeks to persuade U.S. officials and the American public that the Persian Gulf state’s plan to expand oil and gas drilling is compatible with international efforts to slash the use of fossil fuels — the main cause of rising temperatures worldwide.
During the past decade, the UAE has spent more than $1 million on direct climate-focused advocacy and paid millions more to advisory firms and think tanks helping to polish its green credentials, an analysis by POLITICO’s E&E News of federal disclosure filings found. No other host nation has invested as much time and money to shape its image ahead of the annual climate negotiations.
In contrast, the United Kingdom didn’t disclose hiring any American PR or lobbying firms for climate advocacy the year it hosted the 2021 U.N. summit in Glasgow, Scotland, according to past filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. During that gathering — when UAE won the right to host this year’s talks — the Emiratis paid two firms more than $314,000 for their U.S.-focused climate influence efforts.
Much of the criticism of the UAE’s role this year has focused on Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the Emiratis’ climate envoy and CEO of its state-owned oil company, who will serve as the summit’s president. In that position, he will take a lead role crafting the initial negotiating text and guide a final deal with top diplomats at the gathering, known as COP 28.
“To have the COP be basically run by the fossil fuel industry sets the bar very, very high for accomplishments,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in an interview earlier this year. “The people running the UAE COP need to do something to show that this is going to be different.”
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