Inevitable tension surrounds this November’s United Nations-sponsored climate talks: They will be held in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, and the most important role in the talks the man who stands at the head national oil company.

Chief Executive Sultan al-Jaber and other Emirati officials claimed they had a “game-changing” plan to fight climate change by welcoming oil and gas companies from around the world to participate more fully in the talks. In other words, invite the producers of the fuels that cause most of the global warming to be key players in developing a plan to slow warming.

In an interview, Majid al-Suwaidi, an Emirati diplomat who will also play a leading role in the climate talks, known by the acronym COP28, said: “We need to involve people who have technical know-how, skills, technology – and by the way, people who provide work – in a conversation about how they transform.”

For activists who have attended these conferences for years, the notion sounds far-fetched. “It’s the same as tobacco lobbyists who have to avoid talking about cancer prevention,” said Catherine Abreu, who heads the Destination Zero climate nonprofit network.

The conference will be held in the background renewable investment in fossil fuels after the brief slump of the pandemic era. Energy consumption from fossil fuels accounts for more than two-thirds of global emissions.

Over the past year, the world’s biggest producers — places like the United States, Saudi Arabia, Norway and the Emirates — have approved dozens of large-scale new drilling projects. This month, the Emirates received long-sought permission from OPEC, the coalition of oil-producing nations that coordinates output and prices, to pump more oil from next year. ADNOC, the oil company headed by Mr al-Jaber, is investing billions to meet these new goals.

In a recent speech, Mr al-Jaber, who also chairs the Emirates’ largest renewable energy company, said he hoped COP28 would deliver a collective commitment to triple renewable energy by 2030, which he put forward as part of the “energy” transition. a system that does not contain unlimited fossil fuels.”

As is the case with much of the intricate work of improving global agreements on technical issues, much of what passes for progress to climate activists consists of seemingly minor details, such as the use of the word “mitigation” in Mr. al. -Jaber’s speech.

It’s a word echoed by other powerful actors in the climate arena, such as former US climate envoy Senator John Kerry. And its use means, for some, that these leaders see climate goals and continued fossil fuel production as compatible if the technology to capture their emissions is widely deployed. This kind of massive technology rollout is years away in the rosiest of scenarios.

“Fossil fuel interests are actively working to co-opt our imagination,” Ms. Abreu said. “Governments can now envision geo-engineering a planet more easily than growing renewables that already exist.”

Before this year, the COP process was already overcoming a crisis of credibility. Despite warnings from leading climate scientists, many of the conference’s biggest successes on paper – for example, promises by rich countries to provide enough funding for poorer ones to cope with a climate crisis they played little role in creating – have fallen far short of the mark.

Negotiators from small island states, Latin America and Africa were joined by negotiators from the European Union in calling for a conference that would deliver an agreement on the “phasing out” of fossil fuels. But they have met stiff opposition from representatives of producer countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.

As for the phase-out, Mr al-Suwaidi said he hoped this COP would be “about what we build, what we expand, what we accelerate, not what we take away from the people”.

This year’s COP will be held in the Emirates as the United Nations climate body rotates hosts between five world regions. The representatives of the nations in this body supported the choice of the Asia-Pacific region of the Emirates by consensus. The expected showdown between fossil fuel companies and negotiators and activists calling for their elimination will be even tighter than ever, and suspicion between the two sides runs deep.

Seemingly automated Twitter accounts promoting the Emirates’ climate have sparked a flurry of content on the platform in recent weeks, leading activists to claim “greenwashing”. A COP28 spokesman said he was aware of “fake Twitter bot accounts” and that they were “created by external actors” and “clearly designed to discredit COP28”.

Mistrust threatens to further undermine the COP process, said Tom Evans, climate policy adviser at think tank E3G. It is likely to distract attention from the failure of industrialized countries, which contribute the vast majority of climate-warming emissions, and which continue to slow down what he said is urgent action to reduce emissions.

“What’s really important more broadly is the lack of leadership, powerful countries are the champions and create the conditions for success,” he said. “Instead we have a vacuum.

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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