The clock is ticking on climate change, and at the end of this month, world leaders will convene to negotiate solutions to this critical threat at COP28. Unfortunately, this crucial summit is being held in a petrostate, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and will be overseen by an oil baron, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who also runs a renewable energy company.
The UAE is one of the world’s top ten oil-producing countries, and its state-owned company, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), is one of the top ten oil-producing companies in the world. The UAE even plans to expand its oil and gas production. In fact, the Guardian describes ADNOC as having “the largest net-zero-busting expansion plans of any company in the world.”
Because the UAE has a vested interest in delaying the transition to renewable energy, the petrostate is producing propaganda to mislead the public about its oil-stained track record. For example, an ADNOC operative and COP28’s head of marketing each got caught earlier this year attempting to greenwash Al Jaber's reputation by editing the Wikipedia pages of Al Jaber and COP28. ADNOC has had access to the COP28 office’s emails and helped shape the response to at least one media inquiry. Furthermore, over one hundred fake Twitter profiles, some using AI-generated headshots, have sought in the leadup to COP28 to spread pro-UAE propaganda and counteract criticism of the country, as have accounts on Reddit. None of this is terribly surprising: the world’s top public relations firms have been working for decades to launder Al-Jaber’s reputation, trying to transform the alleged “bully” into a “climate action leader.”
As we approach COP28, climate advocates must be prepared for the disinformation narratives that the petrostate is using to deceive the public. In this three-part series, we will examine five of the UAE’s key disinformation narratives, starting with greenwashing.
Greenwashing: Hollow Claims about Mangroves, Carbon Capture, and Regenerative Agriculture
UAE propaganda routinely seeks to mislead people into thinking that the country is dedicated to sustainability and climate action. Rather than keeping fossil fuels in the ground and investing in renewable energy instead of oil and gas production, the UAE greenwashes itself by making surface-level, performative pledges such as planting ten mangroves for every COP28 visitor and constructing net-zero buildings in the still-unfinished Masdar City.
Over the past few years, ADNOC has repeatedly advertised its plans to invest in carbon capture projects; and UAE-based media outlets like The National are promoting the narrative that Al Jaber “could push for the greater use of carbon capture and storage by the oil and gas industry.” These biased sources neglect to mention that oil and gas companies have used carbon capture technology for decades for the purpose of extracting more oil, not stopping climate change.
As DeSmog noted, the UAE has also promoted other false solutions, like regenerative agriculture. These practices may be helpful if done well but are not substitutes for reducing fossil fuel usage. In the words of the World Resources Institute, “the practices grouped as regenerative agriculture can improve soil health and yield some valuable environmental benefits, but are unlikely to achieve large-scale emissions reductions.”
The UAE even declared 2023 to be the “Year of Sustainability,” claiming to “inspire collective action through a nationwide commitment towards sustainable practices and foster global collaboration to address environmental challenges.” Encapsulating the performative nature of the initiative, one Year of Sustainability official this month made vapid claims like “sustainability has always been a deeply-rooted value within the UAE’s heritage” and “our ancestors were sustainable.”
These portrayals of the UAE as environmentally friendly are part of a calculated greenwashing campaign, and these deliberately misleading claims must not be taken at face value. Shallow, performative commitments are a delay tactic that allow the fossil fuel industry to manipulate public opinion while continuing to pollute the planet.
Unfortunately, the UAE’s greenwashing is only the tip of its iceberg of disinformation. Tune in tomorrow for analysis of the way that the petrostate has used woke-washing and fossil fuel solutionism to try to further launder its reputation.