The United Arab Emirates has tapped a public relations firm for its new climate envoy as the Gulf country cozies up to the Joe Biden administration on one of its main priorities.
The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has hired APCO Worldwide to represent Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber in his “interactions with the United States as it relates to the global climate agenda.” The $45,000 contract with Dubai-based APCO Worldwide FZ is for “strategic communications and media relations services within the United States” and runs from April 4 through the end of June.
APCO, which is headquartered in Washington, has registered its founder and executive chairman Margery Kraus on the account along with Kraus’ chief of staff, Prateek Allapur, and consultant Suzanne Smalley. Neither APCO nor the UAE Embassy in Washington responded to requests for comment.
Jaber is the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and also serves as Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology. He was appointed special envoy for climate change at the end of November, a week after Biden tapped former Secretary of State John Kerry as his own Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.
President Biden has made the fight against climate change a priority, rejoining the Paris agreement that President Donald Trump had pulled out of. The president will host a virtual summit on climate next week with 40 world leaders, including UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Kerry met with Jaber in Abu Dhabi last week as the UAE capital hosted a regional climate dialogue. The two countries released a joint statement at the time touting a “new era of cooperation in the region for a future focused on prosperity through climate policy, investment, innovation, and sustainable economic growth.”
“The leadership of the UAE,” Kerry said in an interview with CNN last week. “I think among all the other nations in that region, have been singularly understanding of the need for this shift and have for a number of years now — long before this became the hot topic it is right now — have already been engaged in some of that diversification and investment in alternate renewables.”
The joint statement noted that the UAE has the world’s lowest solar power costs and significant carbon capture investments. It also praised the creation of Masdar City, a pioneer in master-planned sustainable urban development when it was launched a decade ago, and the world’s largest single-site solar facility in Noor.
The UAE also recently became the first Gulf country to commit internationally to a de facto peaking of its domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, Gulf energy policy expert Mari Luomi wrote in a recent post for the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Other countries in a region that remains better known for oil exports than green energy have followed suit.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has hired a slew of public relations firms in recent months to encourage international investment in its own futuristic eco-city, Neom.
But experts point out that the UAE and other Gulf countries’ environmental commitments have limits.
“The UAE, like any other Gulf countries, has one of the higher per capita consumption shares in the world that goes together with a lot of green rhetoric, if not green washing,” Eckart Woertz, the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, told Foreign Lobby Report.
He said the UAE and other oil-rich countries in the region are looking to renewables in part to satisfy domestic energy demand so they can export more oil.
“You still want to sell this stuff, so you need to do a bit of public relations for your export product,” Woertz said. “And that I guess is part of the job of the climate envoy.”
Still, he acknowledged, the UAE has been a “trailblazer for diversification efforts.”
With its public relations push on climate, Woertz said, the UAE is competing with regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar while building bridges with the new US administration. Just this week, the administration said it was proceeding with a $23 billion arms sale to the country, despite misgivings from Congress over the UAE’s role in the war in Yemen.
“That may be a side effect: They feel they need to gain a bit of a profile with the Biden administration,” Woertz said. “And you do that in a different way than you would have with a Trump administration.”