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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) 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 -

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.

Sultan al-Jaber, who also leads the massive state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., 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 said showed 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.

Adnan Amin, the conference's chief executive and a top lieutenant of al-Jaber, said he wasn't concerned about the possible fallout of the report and said he believed Emirati officials were determined to make progress toward limiting climate change.

"I think they're focused on delivering a transformational COP. ... They're focused on creating a platform for everybody to have the ability to discuss ambitious climate action," Amin, a veteran UN official and longtime proponent of renewable energy, told The Associated Press after hosting a pre-conference meeting with delegation chiefs.

Immediately after al-Jaber's remarks, a faked news release sent to The Associated Press described al-Jaber as having agreed to resign as CEO of ADNOC. COP28 organizers with the UAE delegation later confirmed it was false and al-Jaber would continue in his role.

Each year, the country hosting the UN 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.

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Correction

This story has been corrected to show that a purported statement on al-Jaber's behalf was faked.

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