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A state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates has hired a team of lobbyists to defend the country’s work in hosting this year’s UN climate summit after criticism from environmentalists and politicians.
Public relations firm First International Resources will receive a monthly retainer of £100,000 for six months to strengthen the UAE’s reputation among “Western audiences”, according to a copy of its contract filed with the US Department of Justice under lobbying rules for foreign agents, which was published by the DoJ this month.
The firm has been hired by the UAE’s state-owned renewables company Masdar, the contract said. Masdar is chaired by COP28 president-designate Sultan al-Jaber, who is also head of the petrostate’s oil company.
First International’s goal is to “inoculate” COP28 and Jaber from “any potential criticism” and drum up support from “politically influential individuals”, the contract said. The firm specialises in crisis communications, according to its website.
As well as acting as a “personal sounding board” to Jaber, the consultancy will respond to and deflect negative press reports. The contract was first reported by Politico.
Almost 200 countries and up to 80,000 people are expected to attend COP28 in Dubai in November, when global politicians will attempt to hash out an agreement on efforts to tackle climate change.
Jaber’s appointment as COP28 president had “generated predictable pushback from Greens in the West”, the First International contract said. In May, more than 100 western politicians called for the UAE to remove Jaber from the role.
But Jaber, an engineer by background who is trusted by Abu Dhabi’s leadership as one of its most effective technocrats, has received continued support from others, including US climate envoy John Kerry and the EU.
Last month Jaber said he hoped COP28 would aim to reach a deal on tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 and reforming climate finance — a plan that was broadly welcomed by politicians and some prominent climate campaigners. But environmentalists have criticised it, saying it does not go far enough in tackling climate change.
The UAE has also been criticised for its role as a fossil fuel producer, and over concerns about its human rights record.
According to the contract, FIR will survey the general public and “elite” audiences in the US, France, Germany, the UK, Spain and three other countries. It will use the results to generate a “proactive educational campaign” and influence elected officials.
It will seek to enlist “politically influential individuals and groups” to “further bolster COP28’s overall image and interests”. The contract listed the World Economic Forum, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies among the think-tanks it could target.
Additionally, the contract said the consultancy “could also activate or mobilise our connections inside the ‘US Jewish Establishment’ to help support the campaign’s overall objectives”, as well as using its influence to set up meetings with members of the US Congress and the administration of President Joe Biden.
The appointment is the latest step in the UAE’s bid to bolster its environmental profile. It has also hired David Canzini, a former aide to ex-UK prime minister Boris Johnson, to provide strategic counsel.
COP28, Masdar and First International Resources did not immediately respond to requests for comment.