Al-Jaber, who also presides over the colossal state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., characterized the allegations from a BBC report as "an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency" ahead of the commencement of the talks on Thursday. The report, which cited purported "leaked briefing documents," claimed that the Emirates had plans to negotiate oil, gas, and renewable energy deals with several countries.
"These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate," al-Jaber asserted to a select group of journalists at a press conference that was also broadcast live. "I promise you never ever did I see these talking points that they refer to or that I ever even used such talking points in my discussions."
He further implored, "So please for once, respect who we are, respect what we have achieved over the years and respect the fact that we have been clear open and clean and honest and transparent on how we want to conduct this COP process."
In response to a request for comment, the BBC stated, "The investigation was rigorously researched according to the highest editorial standards." The broadcaster did not provide further details regarding the report, which it published in collaboration with the Center for Climate Reporting.
Shortly after al-Jaber's comments, a fabricated news release sent to The Associated Press claimed that al-Jaber had agreed to step down. However, COP28 organizers from the UAE delegation subsequently confirmed that the news release was false and that al-Jaber would continue in his role.
The country hosting the annual U.N. negotiations, known as the Conference of the Parties (from which the acronym COP is derived), nominates an individual to chair the talks. Host countries typically select a seasoned diplomat, as the talks can be challenging to navigate due to the conflicting interests of different nations.
The nominee's role as "COP President" is ratified by delegates at the beginning of the talks, generally without objections. However, activists' displeasure with al-Jaber's appointment could potentially lead to a tumultuous start to the negotiations.
ADNOC, the state oil company, intends to increase its crude oil production from 4 million barrels a day to 5 million, thereby augmenting its production of carbon-emitting crude oil and natural gas.
Al-Jaber, a 50-year-old veteran climate envoy and trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has been instrumental in the expenditure or commitment of tens of billions of dollars towards renewable energy in the federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Jaber accompanied Sheikh Mohammed on a tour of the COP28 site on Wednesday prior to his remarks.
However, the fact that al-Jaber repeatedly defended himself and his country against activists' criticism is significant in the Emirates, an autocratic nation that, despite being a crucial U.S. business and military ally, strictly regulates speech, prohibits political parties, and criminalizes labor strikes.
U.S President Joe Biden, who attended the previous two COP meetings in Scotland and Egypt, will not be present at this summit due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Vice President Kamala Harris will attend instead.