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Emirati-designated COP28 leader forcefully denies report UAE wanted to seek oil deals in summit

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber walks through the venue for the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Emirati president-designate for the upcoming United Nations COP28 climate talks forcefully denied Wednesday a report alleging his nation planned to use the summit to strike oil and gas deals, a day before the summit was due to begin.

However, Sultan al-Jaber, who also leads the massive state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., will step down from his position as CEO of the company — trying to head off the major criticism surrounding his selection of a planned vote to formally make him the leader of the talks.

Al-Jaber called the allegations from a BBC report “an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency” before the talks begin Thursday. The report cited what it described as “leaked briefing documents” the broadcaster described as showing the Emirates planned to discuss fossil fuel deals with 15 nations.

“These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate,” al-Jaber told a small group of journalists gathered for a news conference that also was aired live. “I promise you never ever did I see these talking points that they refer to or that I ever even used such talking points in my discussions.”

He added: “So please for once, respect who we are, respect what we have achieved over the years and respect the fact that we have been clear open and clean and honest and transparent on how we want to conduct this COP process.”

The BBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Immediately after the remarks, a news release on his behalf said he “has agreed to step down from his position as ADNOC CEO upon deliberation between key representatives” from the U.N. and others. He planned to hold a news conference later Wednesday to elaborate on the decision.

“Concerns were raised by several parties ... about the efficacy of Dr. al-Jaber’s role as president-designate if he retains his affiliations to ADNOC,” the statement read.

Each year, the country hosting the U.N. negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name — nominates a person to chair the talks. Hosts typically pick a veteran diplomat as the talks can be difficult to steer between competing nations and their interests.

The nominee’s position as “COP president” is confirmed by delegates at the start of the talks, usually without objections. However, activists’ ire over al-Jaber’s selection could still see a turbulent start to the negotiations.

ADNOC, the state oil company, has plans to increase its production of crude oil from 4 million barrels a day up to 5 million, boosting its production of carbon-emitting crude oil and natural gas.

Al-Jaber, a 50-year-old longtime climate envoy, is a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. He’s been behind tens of billions of dollars spent or pledged toward renewable energy in the federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Jaber escorted Sheikh Mohammed through the COP28 site on Wednesday ahead of his remarks.

But the fact that al-Jaber repeatedly defended himself and the country from activists’ criticism is incredibly telling in the Emirates, an autocratic nation that while a key U.S. business and military ally still tightly controls speech, bans political parties and criminalizes labor strikes. ___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Jon Gambrell And Malak Harb, The Associated Press

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