June 26, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 495

Blood, Oil And Golf: Western Hypocrisy On COP-28

June 26, 2023 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 495

It was almost a year ago that Joe Biden made that trip to Saudi Arabia. That one where the puerile obsession of the American media was focused on whether or not Biden would meet with or even shake hands with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.[1] The trip was about trying to repair a frayed relationship but also about oil – the Americans wanted the Saudis to pump more oil and gas. That same message was delivered to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and the Americans also sought to take steps to help both Venezuela and Iran, near pariahs and bitter American adversaries, produce more fossil fuels for international consumption. There were reasons, of course. The goal was to try to tame runaway domestic inflation and to try to hurt Russia, a major global energy producer, in its war in Ukraine.

Fast forward six months from that 2022 Saudi trip and 27 members of the US Congress (five senators and 22 members of the House of Representatives) sent a letter to the US Climate Envoy John Kerry calling on him to pressure the United Arab Emirates to remove their choice as president-designate of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties 28 (COP-28).[2] What was the transgression of Sultan Al-Jaber that prompted this congressional letter, all of whom were Democrats and most of them on the far-left spectrum of that party? Al-Jaber is not only the Climate Envoy of the UAE but also the chairman of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the largest oil companies in the world.[3] A second version of the letter was signed by 99 members of the European Parliament led by far-left French MEP Manon Aubry of the La France Insoumise party.[4]

COP28 is this year's edition of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, to be held in Dubai later this year. It is not the first time that this conference has been held in an OPEC member country – COP18 was held in Qatar. Perhaps because they want to play hard as well as work hard, past climate summits were held at beach resort towns in Bali, Cancun, and Sharm El-Sheikh.

The congresspeople felt that having an oil company executive heading the conference "risked undermining the very essence of what is trying to be accomplish." It is an interesting notion coming from political representatives of the globe's largest oil producer and second largest polluter, the United States. A cynic might note the deep hypocrisy of fossil fuel giant America begging the world for more oil and gas in July 2022 and then complaining about (foreign) fossil fuel six months later.

The tension, which transcends the unfairly targeted Sultan Al-Jaber and even oil-rich UAE, is whether nations should be completely fazing out oil, coal, and gas – something UN Secretary General Guterres and others have called for – or whether the focus should be on reducing emissions, the position of oil producing states (and Western oil companies).[5]

As often happens in multilateral venues, there seems to be a disconnect between the rhetoric and agenda of international bureaucrats and the way the world is actually run on the ground. While some European countries aggressively pursue a green agenda, putting their farmers out of work and aching to slaughter cattle herds, others turned to burning coal in the winter of 2022-2023. There is, of course, nothing at all preventing Western countries from shutting down their own fossil fuel production and polluting industries, nothing except the fury of their own citizens.[6]

There is strong element of moral preening and posturing by the West when it comes to this and similar conferences. A June 14 Financial Times editorial called on al-Jaber/UAE to ensure that "the Dubai COP makes the headway that has eluded so many of its predecessors."[7] So there was not enough progress made at those past conferences held on the beaches of Bali or Cancun?

I suspect that a considerable part of the fury directed at the organizers of COP28 is a type of projection. Our global elites have yet to have the really hard conversation with their own citizens (aka "voters") that sustainable development goals and climate mandates will mean that they must – for their own good – be poorer, more diminished, and constrained in the very near future.

And while there is no greater sacred cow for the powers that be than climate change (gender ideology likely comes second), the high dudgeon on COP28 is actually a subset of a much broader range of moral narratives that the West, especially the dominant progressive/left-leaning class in the West, unleashes against seemingly transgressing foreign states. Ironically, in the Middle East, both Israel and Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been the victims of this tongue lashing.

At least some of the outrage is prompted because these countries are truly independent, have their own agendas and refrain from playing the clapping seal role that the West prefers from foreign audiences.

The same West that engineered decades of billion-dollar arms sales to the Gulf financed by petrodollars now chides OPEC members for wealth and influence obtained from that black gold that the same West prioritized for decades. There is also a cultural dimension here. How dare, for example, Saudis take over professional golf,[8] say the same people who are silent about Chinese influence in the American film industry (or even about Chinese and Ukrainian payoffs to highly-placed Americans).[9]

All too often these days, in terms of regime propaganda toward the Other, the West is able to generate only two faces – high indignation toward those they believe fall short of those (constantly shifting) Western standards and crocodile tears toward the miserable unfortunates in the developing world.

It used to be that arrogance and cultural colonization towards foreign countries was seen as a characteristic of the political right. Today it is just as likely to come from the Western left or far-left. Non-Western foreigners (or even Europeans like Viktor Orban) who stand up as equals and who refuse to swallow the latest nostrums or to play the role of either supplicant or victim make our elites very uneasy, whether that is Nayib Bukele in El Salvador or MBS and MBZ in the Middle East.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 396, Biden's Saudi Close-Up, July 11, 2022.

[2], January 30, 2023.

[3], January 12, 2023.

[4], May 23, 2023.

[5], June 16, 2023.

[6], July 29, 2022.

[7], accessed June 26, 2023.

[8], June 6, 2023.

[9], June 22, 2023.

Share this Report: