Five Key Narratives to Watch For at COP28

Here’s DeSmog’s take on what to expect at this year’s climate summit, from Big Oil’s influence, to a new Big Ag agenda, to promotion of sketchy solutions that would keep oil and gas burning for decades to come.
Analysis
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The United Arab Emirates' pavilion at COP27. Credit: Adam Barnett

The annual United Nations climate negotiations are just a week away. Known as COP28 — since it’s the 28th year of the “conference of the parties” to the United Nations climate agreement — it will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates in Dubai from November 30 through December 12. 

COP28 will be especially significant, as it will feature the first-ever “global stocktake,” of how much progress — or lack thereof — countries and other stakeholders have made toward meeting the goal established in 2015’s Paris Agreement of limiting warming to “well below” 2º degrees Celsius. 

Negotiators at COP28 will also aim to make progress on key climate issues including loss and damage finance, a just energy transition, and closing the emissions gap.

As the climate crisis accelerates, so, too, do efforts by the fossil fuel industry to derail steep reductions in carbon pollution by mid-century, in part by promoting false solutions. Below, we’ve rounded up recent coverage to help you make sense of the key denial and greenwashing narratives that will be front and center during the event.

A Big Presence from Big Oil

After all, this is the first annual climate conference with a Big Oil exec at the top: COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber

Al Jaber, the person leading these global climate negotiations, is the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). He has openly called for fossil fuel companies’ “help to drive the solutions,” and advocated overcoming “the hurdles to scale up and commercialize hydrogen and carbon capture technologies” — two so-far unproven climate solutions being heavily promoted by the fossil fuel industry. A big presence from Big Oil would be in line with trends at the past two summits: 636 fossil fuel lobbyists registered to attend last year’s conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, while 503 registered for 2021’s gathering in Glasgow.

Dive deeper with our Climate Disinformation Database profile of Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, our coverage of his appointment as COP28 president, and our reporting last year on fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27.

An Industry Push for CCS

The fossil fuel industry will paint carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a climate solution during this year’s conference. Critics argue it is anything but. 

Of the 32 commercial CCS facilities operating worldwide, 22 use most, or all, of their captured carbon dioxide (CO2) to pump more oil out of depleted wells. Burning that oil creates far more CO2 than what is captured. 

DeSmog recently analyzed 12 large-scale CCS projects around the world and found countless missed carbon capture targets, as well as cost overruns, with taxpayers picking up the tab via billions of dollars in subsidies. Despite these failures, Big Oil publicly champions CCS and pushes projects over communities’ objections. Privately, the industry shares critics’ concerns.

With the Biden administration channeling billions of dollars into investments and tax credits for CCS, the United States is likely to be a key CCS supporter at the conference.

Dive deeper with our explainer on how CCS is used for “enhanced oil recovery,” our investigation into CCS’s biggest fails, hear what Big Oil is saying about CCS in private.

Greenwashing by Big Agriculture

This year’s climate conference is coming on the heels of the world’s hottest year, with devastating floods around the world affecting the global food supply, and more than 330 million people worldwide facing famine. So COP28 leaders have released a four-point “food and agriculture” agenda for the summit that calls for governments and industry to collaborate on finding new solutions to climate change–driven food insecurity. 

However, some of the biggest companies in agribusiness, are using greenwashing to shift the debate away from meaningful action. DeSmog has debunked six concepts that the world’s largest food and farming companies will be co-opting in hopes of swaying debates and discussions in  Dubai — including “regenerative agriculture,” “nature-based solutions,” and “climate neutrality.” Stay tuned for DeSmog’s coverage from Dubai — our team will be keeping a close eye on Big Ag.

Dive deeper with our coverage of how food systems are linked to fossil fuel consumption, investigations into the meat and dairy groups downplaying their industries’ climate impacts, and the ties between Big Ag and right-wing politicians in the EU.

PR Spin That Promotes Denial and Delay

Ever wonder how a top oil-producing nation like the United Arab Emirates earned hosting duties for this year’s climate summit, or why the chief of UAE’s state oil company ADNOC, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, has ascended to one of the top roles in global climate negotiations? Reporting by DeSmog revealed that from 2007 to 2009, Edelman, the largest public relations firm in the world, ran a campaign to bolster the UAE and Al Jaber’s green images. 

Advertising and PR agencies like Edelman have long burnished the public’s perceptions of fossil fuel interests, and are still creating advertising campaigns for big polluters that distract from and delay climate action — such as sponsored-content for a pesticides giant or leading climate communications while catering to Big Oil. Still, within the ad industry, pressure is mounting to stop working with fossil fuel clients. Some companies and organizations are even dropping ad and PR firms for taking on new fossil fuel industry accounts

Follow DeSmog’s coverage as we highlight the PR spin at COP28.

Dive deeper with our Climate Disinformation Database profiles of PR and ad firms Edelman, Ogilvy, and FleishmanHillard, our investigation into Edelman’s campaign to burnish Al Jaber and the UAE’s green creds, and our coverage of the backlash to Havas winning Shell’s business.

Anticipate Disinformation 

Disinformation strategies and narratives will be on display throughout the summit — much as we reported during COP27, where fossil fuel-linked groups spent around $4 million on social media ads that spread false climate claims. 

The disinformation may flow thicker and faster than ever during COP28. As DeSmog has reported, over the past five years climate greenwashing has “gone through the roof,” as major polluters turn to greenwashing to avoid accountability for the climate crisis. In part, this may be a response to the increasing number of climate lawsuits and legal complaints against misleading climate claims. Attorneys general across the U.S. have charged fossil fuel companies with defrauding consumers by lying about the impacts of burning coal, oil, and gas — while activists and campaigners in Europe seek to hold Big Oil accountable under regulations against misleading advertising.

To understand disinformation tactics and where they come from, dig into DeSmog’s reporting about past greenwashing campaigns. We recently shone a light on the way the gas industry borrowed Big Tobacco’s tactics to promote doubt over the health effects of gas stoves. Or read our investigation into how corporate polluters and their political allies have been using the same rhetoric of delay for the past six decades when faced with the prospect of regulation.

Dive deeper with our column on why greenwashing works and how to fight it, our Q&A with Climate Investigations Center researcher Rebecca John, and our investigation into Shell’s knowledge of climate change.

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