The 2023 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP28) began as 2023 drew to a close. COP28 is the 28th annual conference designed to bring together a group of global parties in an effort for worldwide conversation and problem-solving surrounding climate change. This year, however, COP28 has been markedly contentious among environmentalists. But why is a conference devoted to developing solutions for climate change-related issues, the very conference that created the famed Paris Climate Accords, so controversial? And why do some of COP28’s fiercest supporters also happen to be leaders in the oil industry?

From November 30 through December 12, 2023’s installment of the COP marked the seventh annual convention of the conference (exclusive of 2020 due to COVID-19) since the 2015 Paris Climate Accords, which was ratified by 196 of the 198 UNFCCC member parties. The Paris Climate Accords stipulate the occurrence of a two-year Global Stocktake every five years, a process designed to keep the global community on track with the Climate Accord’s goals—not dissimilar from how the Concord Academy Sustainability Plan was intended to function. The parties completed the first-ever Global Stockade on schedule, seven years after the Climate Accords. With this completion, the concept has been proven, though the results fall staggeringly short of the ideal in terms of the 1.5°C global warming target maximum.

Perhaps the most major milestone of COP28 is the event’s record number of attendees in the conference's nearly three-decade history, with 84,000 registered. When compared to the initial roughly 4,000 attendees in 1995, this immense increase indicates the globally recognized importance of addressing climate change. Though the growth in participation at COP28 may seem benign, another record has been set at this conference: the record number of oil lobbyists present. 2,456 industry lobbyists attended which is a 1,820-person increase from COP27.

As Amnesty International’s Programme Director of Climate, Economic, and Social Justice and Corporate Accountability Marta Schaaf put it, “Arms dealers are not asked to peace talks, so it is warped to ask climate wreckers for their view on how to fix the damage they have caused when most of them are planning to expand production of fossil fuels, further warming our overheating world, and threatening the rights of billions of people.” Some oil companies involved in crude oil extraction, refinement, and export have pledged their commitment towards curbing climate change, yet many, such as Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) have also set goals to substantially increase production in coming years; an increase in oil production will undeniably increase fossil fuel burning, shipping-related emissions, environmental and human collateral, and global reliance on nonrenewable energy sources.

ADNOC, the twelfth largest oil company by production worldwide, is not alone in its empty promises, yet its relation to COP28 is intrinsic and a point of widespread criticism. ADNOC is wholly owned by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the capital and emirate with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). COP28 was held in Dubai, the most populous city in the UAE thus giving the UAE government, as the hosting region, the choice of the conference’s president. Dr. Sultan Ahmed AL Jaber, a chairman of the state-owned renewable energy company Masdar and the UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change, was appointed COP28’s President. Ironically, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber is also the CEO of ADNOC. The CEO of the world’s twelfth-largest oil company is running the world's largest climate conference.

The pushback to the oil industry's hand in this year’s UNFCCC COP is not only widespread but well-founded, from leadership to lobbyists to location. Former Vice President of the United States and environmentalist Al Gore articulated the impossible contradiction that COP28 became, saying in an interview with Reuters, “When you have a petrostate in charge of the process, then we have this ridiculous situation where the main polluters have to give their permission for the world to make common sense decisions to save the future of humanity.”