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)
CNN  — 

The COP28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber has strongly denied accusations that his team sought to use the international climate talks in Dubai to strike fossil fuel deals for the UAE’s state-owned oil and gas company.

Several media outlets, including CNN, this week published stories based on a cache of leaked documents obtained by the UK-registered Centre for Climate Reporting, which appeared to be briefing notes for Al Jaber for meetings with foreign officials in the run-up to the summit. Al Jaber also runs the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). He denies ever seeing the documents or ever using such talking points in his discussions.

Several of the documents detailed suggestions to offer new oil and gas projects to visiting officials, which would benefit the UAE.

“These allegations are false, not true, incorrect, and not accurate,” he said at a press conference in Dubai on Wednesday, when asked for comment by a reporter. “And it’s an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency.”

Al Jaber, his office and the UAE have come under widespread criticism, particularly from Western media and civil society groups, for appointing its top oil executive to preside over the talks, which begin Thursday and are expected to address ways to ramp down fossil fuel use, the primary driver of the climate crisis.

Al Jaber’s denial took more than three minutes, during which he expressed his frustration at the allegations and criticisms around his connections to the oil and gas industry. He also defended the success of the UAE’s rapid economic development, as well as its relationships with foreign governments and businesses.

“Let me ask you a question: Do you think the UAE, or myself, will need the COP, or the COP presidency, to go and establish business deals or commercial relationships?” Al Jaber asked.

“This country over the past 50 years has been built around its ability to build bridges and to create relationships and partnerships.”

It’s not clear how many of the meetings actually took place, but the leaked notes appear to offer an insight into how the team hoped to use them as a vehicle for new deals. CNN has reached out to the 15 countries mentioned, four of which have confirmed meetings, but said either no business discussions took place or would not confirm if they did. Another two replied to say no meeting occurred.

Al Jaber emphasized that all of his meetings with officials were squarely focused on his COP28 agenda.

“Every meeting I have conducted with every government or any other stakeholder has always been centered around one thing and one thing only, and that is my COP28 agenda and how we can collectively, for the first time ever, adopt a mindset that is centered around implementation and action to keep 1.5 within reach,” he said.

The Paris Agreement stated that the world should try to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Passing that threshold, scientists say, will make it harder for life on Earth to adapt.

He added that he was often given conflicting advice on whether he should engage with oil and gas companies in his role.

“Sometimes I am told ‘you need to engage with governments and with oil and gas companies to put pressure.’ And sometimes I’m told ‘you can’t do that,’” he said. “So, we’re damned if we do, we’re damned if we don’t.”

After his denial, he thanked the reporter who asked him for comment on the allegations. “I feel much better,” he said, concluding his remarks.

Al Jaber is currently overseeing an expansion in ADNOC’s oil and gas production. The company is in the midst of hiking its capacity from 4 million barrels a day, its level in 2022, to 5 million by 2027.