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The United Arab Emirates pursued nearly $100 billion worth of oil and gas deals the same year it led the global climate summit, analysis finds

Catherine Boudreau   

The United Arab Emirates pursued nearly $100 billion worth of oil and gas deals the same year it led the global climate summit, analysis finds
  • UAE's state-owned oil company brokered deals to boost fossil fuels at home and overseas in 2023.
  • The deals included supplying gas to China and expanding into Egypt and Azerbaijan.

Last year, while the United Arab Emirates oversaw a historic agreement to fight the climate crisis, it was brokering deals for oil and gas that could bring the country tens of billions of dollars and boost fossil-fuel production globally.

An analysis by the climate watchdog Global Witness found that the UAE's state-owned oil company, known as ADNOC, closed more than a dozen deals to expand its oil and gas footprint at home and overseas.

Among the transactions were ADNOC's first contract to supply gas to China; a joint venture with the oil giant BP in Egypt; and a stake in Azerbaijan's gas field in the Caspian Sea. ADNOC also bought a Dutch fertilizer company and acquired a stake in an Austrian plastics maker, both of which rely on fossil fuels for their products.

In November, during the UN climate summit in Dubai, the BBC and the Center for Climate Reporting reported that UAE planning documents showed that oil, gas, petrochemical, and renewable-energy projects were among the talking points for meetings with countries in the lead-up to the climate summit, COP28. The summit was led by ADNOC's chief executive, Sultan Al Jaber.

Global Witness found that ADNOC either pursued or closed fossil-fuel deals with firms in 11 of the 16 countries targeted in the UAE planning documents. These included deals to sell liquefied natural gas to Chinese-owned firms and to expand oil and gas businesses in Egypt and Azerbaijan — two countries that open up the UAE's access to Europe as it seeks non-Russian gas. Global Witness estimated that the overall value of the deals it analyzed was nearly $100 billion, though some haven't been finalized.

"Make no mistake, COP28 was hijacked by the interests of the fossil fuel industry, who weren't content simply to block or stall genuine climate policy but used the opportunity to pursue more climate-wrecking oil and gas deals," Patrick Galey, a senior investigator at Global Witness, said in a statement.

ADNOC did not return a request for comment from Business Insider, but Global Witness presented its findings to the oil giant. A spokesperson told Global Witness that the allegation that ADNOC used COP28 to pursue business deals was "completely baseless and false."

The spokesperson argued that COP28 "delivered the biggest climate breakthroughs" since the Paris Agreement in 2015, when world leaders agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

A historic deal in Dubai

A panel of hundreds of climate scientists convened by the UN has said that temperature threshold is likely to be crossed within the next decade, pushing the planet toward a catastrophe, unless countries rapidly stop burning fossil fuels. They've said emissions from existing oil, gas, and coal infrastructure are on track to exceed the Paris Agreement goal.

So far, the planet has warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius, and deadly heat waves, wildfires, flooding, and drought-caused famine are on the rise.

At COP28 in Dubai, countries for the first time called for a transition away from fossil fuels this decade and for the tripling of renewable energy by 2030. In a side agreement brokered by the UAE, oil and gas companies accounting for 40% of global production promised to nearly eliminate their methane emissions by 2030.

But the Dubai deal left the door open to more fossil-fuel production by promoting technology such as carbon capture, which is still in the early stages of development. The deal also said "transitional fuels" could play a role in reducing emissions — a nod to gas, which is less polluting than coal but a major emitter of methane.

Climate scientists have found that while the UAE is investing in renewable energy, carbon capture, and other low-carbon technologies, that activity is dwarfed by the country's fossil-fuel expansion. The UAE, the seventh-largest oil producer, is investing $150 billion to boost its own oil and gas production through 2027. Global Witness' investigation also sheds light on how the country is securing new markets overseas.

Galey said he was concerned that another petrostate, Azerbaijan, which is hosting this year's UN climate summit, could follow the UAE's lead. COP29 is set to be led by Azerbaijan's ecology minister, Mukhtar Babayev, who spent nearly two decades in senior positions at the country's state-owned energy company until leaving in 2018.

Azerbaijan is an emerging economy that relies on oil and gas for nearly half of its GDP and more than 92% of its export revenue.

COP29 organizers didn't return a request for comment from BI. They told Global Witness that they "reject in the strongest terms the suggestion that Azerbaijan has a hidden agenda" in hosting the climate summit.