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UAE COP28 guest list led by bankers, lobbyists — and housekeeping

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The UAE host of COP28 has given access to hundreds of bankers, consultants and lobbyists — and 20 housekeepers — at the event where oil and gas executives such as ExxonMobil chief executive Darren Woods will rub up against almost 200 government delegations shaping global climate policy.

The UAE presidency invited more than 9,000 to the formal business area in the “blue zone”, including about 5,000 guests outside of its own extended delegation, based on Financial Times analysis of a provisional UN list of attendees. Total attendance in Dubai is unconfirmed but estimated at about 80,000, based on the list.

The roster of chief executives on the UAE guest list included interim BP chief executive Murray Auchincloss, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, commodity trading group Trafigura’s Jeremy Weir and Brookfield Asset Management’s Connor Teskey. BlackRock and Brookfield were involved in the $30bn fund launched by the UAE on Friday to invest in climate-related projects.

Bankers were one of the most represented professions among badge holders invited by the UAE, as climate finance moves to the forefront.

HSBC’s Noel Quinn arrived on the first day, with more than two dozen staff from various entities attending as part of the UAE group and another 46 invited by other Asian nation delegations.

HSBC chief Noel Quinn in the Expo City Dubai blue zone on Thursday © Bloomberg

HSBC said it had “participated in previous COPs and will engage at COP28 in support of the ambition to drive climate action and contribute to the efforts to finance the net zero transition”.

Citigroup listed 26 staff, with Bank of America sending 18 as UAE guests, with its presence led by chief executive Brian Moynihan. JPMorgan had a dozen staff. Standard Chartered chief executive Bill Winters and Deutsche Bank’s Christian Sewing and Lazard’s Peter Orszag were among the other prominent bankers to make the UAE list.

“This COP is even more of a trade show than we saw in Glasgow and Sharm el-Sheikh [in 2021 and 2022],” said Alex Scott, climate diplomacy and geopolitics lead at the climate-focused think-tank E3G. “I don’t expect these bankers are here to sit in on hours of climate negotiation.”

From the oil and gas sector, the UAE guests included a sizeable contingent of 17 Abu Dhabi National Oil Company staff, led by the COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber, who has battled criticism of his dual conflicting roles. The UAE renewable energy giant Masdar also had more than 70 staff on hand.

Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan at COP28 on Thursday © Bloomberg

Oxy chief executive Vicki Hollub, ENI head Claudio Descalzi and German energy group RWE’s Markus Krebber were among the other sector leaders.

Energy executives were also well represented on the smaller delegation lists of other countries, including from Brazil, which itself brought about 3,000 people in all. By comparison the US delegation was about 800.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is among the more prominent country leaders attending, as well as India’s Narendra Modi, in the absence of the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.

The first draft of the so-called global stock take of emissions published on Friday that forms part of the outcome of the COP28 negotiations included the hard fought-over option of a fossil fuel phaseout. 

Both the renewable energy and fossil fuel sector were “at liberty at any other time of year to conduct business”, said Tessa Khan, an international climate change lawyer and campaigner. “At a moment that is so critical, any diversion of energy or focus from a really strong outcome and from the focus on a fossil fuel phaseout in particular is a concern.” 

An army of public relations and strategist specialists were also among the UAE’s guests and delegation, led by 53 Edelman operatives, plus more than 100 other communications staff working for the UAE.

The consultants were out in force, with Boston Consulting Group allocating 62 staff to the UAE team in its advisory role, as well as making experts available on issues including renewable energy and finance.

The disclosures were made as part of a promise of greater transparency by the UN, after more than 630 lobbyists for fossil fuel interests were found to be registered at COP27 at Sharm el-Shekih in Egypt.

The UAE COP28 team said: “We welcome this new measure from UNFCCC which encourages greater openness and transparency.”

The UAE was one of only two countries to nominate housekeeping staff, nearly all registered with the office of Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, whose son Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan is president of the UAE.

Known as the “mother of the nation”, her office nominated 17 housekeepers to attend the Blue Zone, with another housekeeper listed as support staff to the UAE delegation, and two cleaners for the office of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Azerbaijan’s delegation also nominated two cleaners.

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