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Climate summit host used talks as platform for oil and gas deals that included Canada

One briefing note shows the UAE’s state oil company is 'willing to jointly evaluate international LNG opportunities' with Canada and other countries.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker sails near the Strait of Singapore. B.C. is becoming a major hub of gas exports in Canada.

The hosts of an upcoming global summit to combat climate change planned to use the meeting as a platform to make oil and gas deals with 15 country delegates, including Canada, according to documents obtained by the Center for Climate Reporting and co-reported by BBC.

The investigation relied on audio recordings, insider interviews, and more than 150 pages of briefing notes prepared for United Arab Emirate COP 28 president Dr. Sultan Al Jaber ahead of meetings with foreign delegates starting Nov. 30.

One briefing note, published by the BBC, shows “talking points” with China showing the UAE’s state oil company is “willing to jointly evaluate international LNG [liquefied natural gas] opportunities” with Mozambique, Canada and Australia.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada Steven Guilbeault met with Al Jaber five times in the last year, according to the ministry's press secretary Kaitlin Power. 

Power said she wasn't able to identify any mention of oil and gas companies during those meetings.

“I wasn't able to identify any of these companies,” Power said. “This was never discussed.”

Power said she had no information whether another Canadian ministry had been involved in fossil fuel talks with the UAE hosts.

Al Jaber’s COP28 presidency had already raised controversy before details of prospective meetings to discuss fossil fuel deals were published. In addition to acting as a host to a summit meant to tackle global climate change, he is the president ADNOC, the massive state-owned oil company, that according to one recent Global Witness report, was responsible for releasing 14 times more emissions than it reported in 2022.

When reporters with BBC and the Center for Climate Reporting approached the UAE’s COP28 team, they did not deny using the meetings as platforms for business talks. The hosts declined to comment on what was discussed, saying the "private meetings are private" and that they focused on “meaningful climate action,” according to the British broadcaster.

B.C. a rising hub for gas

In 2022, western Canadian natural gas production reached a record high. Much of that fuel passes through British Columbia, where at several export facilities, it is cooled into LNG, pumped aboard ships and sent overseas. Many of those facilities including LNG Canada, which will be the province’s largest when completed in less than two years, and Woodfibre LNG, which has yet to be built, are either owned or financed by consortiums of overseas companies. 

Backers of an increase in LNG from Canada say the fuel is a crucial part of weening certain economies off coal electricity generation. 

On Monday, a study carried out by Robert Johnston, executive director at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy, found western Canadian LNG “can make meaningful contributions to GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions reductions in Asia.”

The study was commissioned by the First Nations Climate Initiative (FNCI), a group of four northern B.C. First Nations that sent a delegation to this year's COP28 in Dubai and back the export of gas to Asia.

Critics of such plans say LNG will not act as the “bridge fuel” to wean the world off coal as proponents make it out to be. A study commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation earlier this year drew on peer-reviewed research and work done by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to find the export of gas from B.C. will make the climate crisis worse, not better. 

Another study from the Pembina Institute found B.C.'s oil and gas emissions could triple the province's targets without a hard cap.  

The IEA has long advised countries around the world on their energy policies since its birth in the wake of the 1973 global oil crisis. But for the first time in 2021, the agency recommended countries eliminate oil and gas exploration and halt the approval of fossil fuel facilities

According to the IEA, there's enough gas currently being produced and developed to satisfy global demand and still transition fast enough to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. That agreement seeks to stave off 1.5 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise from pre-industrial levels, the point where scientists say irreversible damage will be done to the Earth’s climate system.

Host revelations COP's ‘Volkswagen 2015’ moment

The technology required to avoid 1.5 C of warming already exists. Data from the IEA and others shows building new electricity capacity through wind and solar technology is now the cheapest path to electrification in the history of humanity. However, the political will and financing required to carry out those changes has not been realized.

That’s why, every year, country delegates gather in one place around the world under the banner of the Conference of the Parties, or COP. The idea is to hold each other to account so that economies are on track to lower emissions. It’s also a platform to hammer out agreements on things like climate financing, so people are set to deal with the worst impacts of climate change, and halting the destruction of forests, which provide an important buffer against rising emissions. 

The recent leaks alleging the COP28 host looked to mix oil and gas deals into those climate negotiations raises questions over their effectiveness.

Chistiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which overseas the COP process, described the reporting as “the ‘Volkswagen 2015’ moment” for the COP28 presidency. 

In 2015, authorities discovered the German carmaker routinely rigged software to cheat emissions standards in a scandal that would cost them more than $30 billion in fines and settlements, and send two U.S. executives to prison. 

The episode pushed the entire auto industry away from reliance on diesel engines, which had been almost half the auto market in Europe, and helped accelerate the push into electric vehicles.

Volkswagen has since become one of the world's biggest makers of battery-only cars.

“Caught red handed, the COP presidency has no other option but to now unequivocally step up the transparency, responsibility and accountability with which they lead the process,” Figueres wrote on social media platform X, formally known as Twitter.

“The planet cannot afford for them to not step up.”

With files from the Canadian Press