A couple weeks ago, we talked about how the host of this year's annual UN COP climate negotiations, the United Arab Emirates, is providing perfect material for understanding propaganda by invoking the concept of "inclusion" to defend inviting a war criminal to COP28.
Who could possibly top that? How about a person who doesn't exist!
Yes, apparently people who don't exist are huge fans of the UAE, including the petrostate's oil boss tapped to preside over COP28. As Matteo Civillini for Climate Home News reported this week, at least a hundred fake Twitter accounts were promoting and praising the UAE, until people pointed out that an account supposedly belonging to a UAE human rights advocate named Viyan Mahmud's profile picture, a headshot, was a "computer-generated image with the line 'this person does not exist' still emblazoned on top."
The UAE's response to this mysterious network of fake accounts promoting the UAE was complete disavowal: A UAE COP28 spokesperson called it "unacceptable" and claimed the COP28 team has "written to Twitter directly requesting assistance to take immediate action to stop this activity and to remove all fake accounts and bots."
Oh, sure, someone's paying for the creation and maintenance of an organized PR campaign, but apparently the UAE, the beneficiary of said campaign, is somehow not responsible.
And it's not like we don't know that the UAE is spending top dollar on "a river of PR contracts," as Corbin Hiar and Zack Colman reported for Politico on Wednesday: "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… No other host nation has invested as much time and money to shape its image ahead of the annual climate negotiations." Indeed, that $1 million is only what's been disclosed, as "one communications strategist said they turned down a nearly $1 million salary," so that's just the tip of the iceberg (and the UAE's melting).
For example, performatively pro-social justice PR giant Edelman had two COP contracts with the UAE that were signed in January, with one set to run through the conference in November and the other indefinite, but both apparently have already ended.
Perhaps Edelman knew not even their dark arts would be able to hide the reality that the UAE put the climate negotiations in the hands of an oil company, and no amount of PR could cover up the "absolute scandal" The Guardian's Damian Carrington just reported: "The United Arab Emirates’ state oil company has been able to read emails to and from the Cop28 climate summit office and was consulted on how to respond to a media inquiry."
Yes, despite all assurances that the COP28 climate team, led by Sultan Al Jaber, would be super totally definitely firewalled from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), led by Sultan Al Jaber, it turns out that was not the case! "Replies to a Guardian email to the Cop28 office requesting reaction to these comments, which did not mention Adnoc," Carrington reported, "contained the text 'Adnoc classification: internal'."
Oh my! And why would that be? Well, the COP28 office claimed the Adnoc classification was there because they “sought input from several subject matter experts regarding emissions, including Adnoc.” Computer expert Dr. Richard Clayton said the climate team's "server handed everything off to the oil company’s server to send the email out," meaning “The oil company was able to look at all of the email which they were sending out.”
So to recap: The end-of-year UN climate negotiations are being hosted by a petrostate, led by an oil boss, and run through an oil company, and the UAE is spending at least a million dollars on propaganda to try and make everyone believe that's just fine.
As for what's next? Well stay tuned, because the Tour de France is coming up this summer, and the cycling world has been taking note of the UAE's strategic use of "sportswashing," so the fact that UAE-sponsored rider Tadej Pogačar is on track to compete means there'll be another opportunity for some obvious, shameless propaganda to cover for the fact that the fossil fuel-reliant country is making a mockery of the UN climate negotiation process.