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Conflicting interests undermine our trust in COP28

BMJ 2023; 383 doi: (Published 01 December 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;383:p2855
  1. Alexander Mafi, editorial registrar
  1. The BMJ

Identifying and tackling conflicts of interests of COP28’s leadership is a priority to maintain the public’s trust in the summit

The actions of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other national leaders aimed at advancing the interests of the fossil fuel industry during a climate summit represent a clear and concerning conflict. This year’s summit has been mired in competing interests since its inception.

It is alarming to learn about plans by the UAE, this year’s host country, to use the COP28 summit in Dubai as an opportunity to push its fossil fuel industry interests and strike oil and gas deals with other countries.1 Leaked briefing documents, reported in the BBC, The Guardian, and other media outlets, indicate that the UAE planned to propose joint ventures between its state-owned oil company Adnoc and China to sell liquefied natural gas to countries including Canada, Australia, and Mozambique. Recent research, published in The BMJ, estimates excess global mortality from air pollution at over eight million deaths per year, with at least five million of these attributable to fossil fuels.2

Further planned “talking points” for private meetings imply that 13 other countries were set to discuss the potential for Adnoc to develop fossil fuel projects abroad, as well as commercial opportunities for the UAEs renewable energy company Masdar. It is unclear whether these private talks occurred and whether these interests were discussed. Sultan Al Jaber, President of COP28 and chief executive of Adnoc, denies claims that he has abused his position.3

The fact that the leadership of COP28 has clear ties to climate damaging industries requires attention and action. Jaber’s dual roles in particular should raise alarm for attendees and warrants close attention to the origin and influence of ideas that are being presented by COP’s leadership and to the decisions that are being made.

These conflicts question the merit of continuing with COP28 with leadership whose agenda sits in stark contradiction to the aims and priorities of the summit. However, the time-sensitive nature of the planetary health crisis necessitates the global discussions and agreements that only COP28 can offer. We mustn't miss this vital opportunity to examine progress on the Paris Agreement and make the pro-climate strides we desperately need. Participating countries, and the UAE in particular, will need to work hard to regain trust and confidence in the outputs of this year's summit, and demonstrate their clear, unconflicted commitment to protecting the health of this planet and its inhabitants.

The fossil fuel industry has already developed a reputation for manipulating climate language and policy and for shifting responsibility for reducing emissions onto individuals, pushing the commonly used term “carbon footprint” to that end.4 Reported plans by the meat industry to influence the debate are also concerning.5 Jaber has argued that we need the fossil fuel industry and climate damaging industries around the table to facilitate an integrated approach to tackling the climate emergency, however this is unconvincing.6 Not only do these conflicts threaten our ability to trust the conclusions and agreements that are generated from the conference, but they challenge our faith in the process of COP28 itself. Inevitably we might consider whether these leaders truly have the best interests of the planet and its citizens at heart.


  • Competing interests: none declared.

  • Provenance and peer review: commissioned, not externally peer reviewed.