The United Arab Emirates has appointed 31 people, including fossil fuel executives and climate campaigners, to its advisory board for November’s Cop28 climate talks.
The group includes the chair of an Indian gas company, the former head of China’s national oil company, the ex-boss of the UK’s BP oil firm and the CEO of an Emirati oil and gas producer.
It also features the head of the African climate foundation, a veteran Bangladeshi anti fossil-fuel campaigner and the former president of the climate-threatened Marshall Islands.
The UAE government said the board brought together "the climate expertise of thought leaders from countries across six continents".
They said it includes "policy, industry, energy, finance, civil society, youth and humanitarian action" and "will provide guidance and counsel to the Cop presidency in the run up to Cop28 and beyond".
But Oil Change International campaigner Romain Ioualalen told Climate Home: "While there has clearly been an effort to make the advisory committee inclusive and diverse, it is deeply concerning to see oil and gas interests being consulted on how to run negotiations to phase out their products."
Fossil fuels on the agenda
Governments at the climate talks will debate whether to agree to phase out fossil fuels.
Alternatively, they could just agree to phase out "fossil fuel emissions", as the UAE favours.
Or they could not mention fossil fuels at all, as oil and gas producers pressured Cop27 to accept last year.
The list features four current and former fossil fuel executives and one banker on a fossil fuel company's board.
Mukesh Ambani is the chair of Reliance Industries, an Indian conglomerate which makes most of its money from oil refining and petrochemicals but has recently announced plans to invest $76 billion in clean energy projects.
Badr Jafr is the CEO of the UAE's oldest private oil and gas producer Crescent Petroleum. He argued in 2021 that talk of an energy transition from fossil fuels to net zero is "reductionist" and fossil fuels should be part of "our combined energy arsenal".
Bob Dudley and Fu Chengyu are the former heads of BP and China's National Offshore Oil Corporation respectively.
Dudley is current chair of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative while Fu set up the International Academy for Carbon Neutrality.
Ioualalen said that Dudley has no credibility on climate action and should not be part of that committee".
Jeffrey Ubben is an investor who sits on the board of American oil and gas producer ExxonMobil, which plans to invest $84 billion in fossil fuel development this decade.
Justifying this board seat, he told the Financial Times: "Fossil fuels are going to be consumed. I am sorry. If they are going to be consumed, let’s figure out how to decarbonise them and let’s layer in the green hydrogen technology as it becomes more affordable. But don’t cancel these companies.”
The list of advisers also includes many figures who have long warned that the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels.
Saleemul Huq is a Bangladeshi climate scientist who has attended every Cop and said in 2021 that any exploration for fossil fuels "should henceforth be declared a crime against humanity".
But he said yesterday that he would be a "one agenda adviser" and only advise the Cop28 president Sultan Al-Jaber on setting up a fund for climate victims.
The list includes Hindou Ibrahim, who lobbies for indigenous communities in Chad and Carlos Lopes, an economist from Guinea-Bissau who heads the board of the African Climate Foundation.
Two former presidents of Cop climate talks - France's Laurent Fabius and Peru's Manuel Pulgar-Vidal - have been tapped up for advice. Pulgar-Vidal chaired the Cop20 climate talks in Lima in 2014 before Fabius oversaw the Cop21 Paris climate talks, which resulted in the Paris agreement, the next year.
Izabella Teixera, who led Brazil's delegation to the Paris climate talks as environment minister, is also on the board.
The Marshall Islands former president Hilda Heine will speak for vulnerable Pacific islands like hers while Iceland's former president Olafur Grimmson will give a perspective from the thawing Arctic.
More controversial is the inclusion of Ernest Moniz, who as Barack Obama's energy secretary pushed the idea of using gas a a "bridge fuel" from coal.
The group is six-tenths male and the Middle East is disproportionately represented, with seven of the 31 members.
The rest of Asia has just five advisers, as does Africa. Latin America has just two and the Pacific one. Six are from Europe and five are from North America.
The Cop28 presidency said correctly that 65% of members are from the Global South.
This article was updated on 18 May 2023 to include Romain Ioualalen's comments