DUBAI - The Emirati host of the UN climate conference in Dubai denied Wednesday reports that he used his presidency of the crucial talks on global warming to pursue fossil fuels deals.
The allegations against Sultan Al Jaber, who is also CEO of his country's oil giant ADNOC, have fanned long-running suspicions over the wisdom of a petrostate hosting the COP28 talks.
But Jaber, who also chairs a UAE-owned clean energy company, strongly denied reports that he used his position as COP president to pitch new oil and gas investments to governments.
"These allegations are false, not true, incorrect and not accurate," Jaber told reporters on the eve of the talks, which will draw world leaders and tens of thousands of delegates to Dubai over the next two weeks.
"It's an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency. 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?"
Leaked documents obtained by the BBC and the Centre for Climate Reporting alleged that talking points prepared for Jaber for COP meetings with foreign governments pushed joint business opportunities in fossil fuels.
The briefing notes, detailed in reports published on Monday, signalled ADNOC's willingness to work with countries including China, Germany and Egypt to develop oil and gas projects.
"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," said Jaber.
He said every meeting he conducted with governments or stakeholders as president of the climate talks "has always been centred around one thing and one thing only: and that is my COP28 agenda."
- 'Worst fears' -
But the allegations fuelled persistent scepticism over the suitability of an oil executive leading the world's climate negotiations as governments are pushed to commit to phasing out fossil fuels, something no COP has ever achieved.
Former US vice president Al Gore said the allegations "have confirmed some of the worst fears" around Jaber while former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said the COP28 host had been caught "red handed".
"The global community's gaze is fixed upon these leaders, expecting them to embody the very essence of integrity, untainted by bias and national or personal gain," said Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network International.
"Any deviation from this path represents a betrayal of the trust placed in them by the world and a failure in their duty to future generations," he wrote on X.
But Jaber has weathered other controversies over his alleged conflict of interest since being appointed COP president earlier this year, including calls from US and European lawmakers for his replacement.
Supporters, including US climate envoy John Kerry, say Jaber is uniquely positioned to broker compromise at the COP talks, where world leaders will be confronted by their lack of progress in curbing global warming in a record-breaking hot year.
The 50-year-old bristled at accusations that he has a conflict of interest, touting his years of work in climate and sustainability, and success in drawing out commitments from big oil and gas players.
"We must incentivise, encourage, and motivate everyone to be part of the solution... rather than sidelining them or leaving them behind, or pointing fingers at them," Jaber said.