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UAE Oil Barons Could Help Lower Climate Flash Points in the Region

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Lana Nusseibeh, UAE's ambassador to the UN
Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh of the United Arab Emirates holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for the second time since March 2022. She told reporters on June 1, 2023, that the country is chairing an open debate on June 13 on the nexus between peace and security and global warming. The UAE hosts the annual UN climate change conference in November. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

The world needs the United Arab Emirates’ oil moguls to get involved in striving for “peace and security,” in a globe where climate change is creating conflict flash points, said Mira Al Hussein, a fellow at the University of Edinburgh, in an interview with PassBlue on the UAE’s presidency of the United Nations Security Council in June.

As the country prepares to host the UN’s annual climate change conference, COP28, in November, it is holding an open debate in the Security Council on June 13 about the nexus between climate, peace and security. Al Hussein, an Alwaleed Bin Talal Research Fellow, says the signature event is “high priority to the UAE.” Juan Manuel Santos, a member of the Elders group of eminent leaders, Nobelist and an ex-president of Colombia, will brief as a civil society expert. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who heads the UN Department of Peace Operations, is also expected to speak.

Harking back to the criticisms that have trailed the appointment of Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE minister of technology and chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as president of COP28, Al Hussein says the country defended its choice by saying it was trying to engage with industry. Left unsaid, she noted, was the “oil industrialists lobbied and supported military interventions in Iraq.”

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It is now important to engage these petroleum juggernauts, Al Hussein adds, to ensure that “we are not the conflict zone, not the frontline of any future conflicts,” referring to oil industrialists having supported past military interventions in the region. Al Hussein is a sociologist specializing in the Arabian Peninsula and the Mideast/North African region, notably on women, migration and authoritarianism. She talked to PassBlue on June 1.

As climate change triggers more violence and upsets aspects of the world order, the Security Council is slowly acknowledging the link between a hotter globe and conflicts and general instability. The conversation on the connections began in 2007, and the UAE says in a concept note that its June 13 debate aims to clarify the effects that extreme weather occurrences are having on the operations of UN peacekeeping and political missions in fragile places like South Sudan, Somalia and Haiti.

The UAE also intends to hold a signature debate around the generic theme of human fraternity as well as cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States. June also entails the UAE presiding over the peacekeeping renewal mandate for Mali and various sanctions regimes in addition to holding briefings on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Syria, among others. On June 2, the Council renewed the mandate for the UN political mission in Sudan, Unitams, for six months, amid the latest fighting there. It is unclear if Volker Perthes, the head of the mission, is returning to Sudan after his trip to the UN recently, though he is apparently returning, at least, to the region. (Gen. Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan, who leads Sudan’s army, told the UN it doesn’t want Perthes back.) A meeting on Russia’s war in Ukraine could also surface in the Council.

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In the Mideast, as well as in the North and Horn regions of Africa, the UAE has been building a sphere of influence, oscillating between deploying military interventions to developing economic ties. Its role in negotiating the Abraham Accords in 2020 and supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s normalization in the region have signaled a preference for a subtle diplomacy of transactions and what analysts call a “zero problem” agenda with UAE’s neighbors, Al Hussein says.

This approach has proven to be a difficult juggling act, with a few balls slipping away from the Emirates’ grasp. The Abraham Accords, she says, were intended to be a “way of ensuring the USA’s commitment to the region’s — Middle East’s security,” but its “fruits” have not materialized.

The accords, which Al Hussein sees as a “reputational damaging relationship with Israel,” has not catalyzed a UAE push for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, even though the UAE, as an Arab country, is supposed to represent the latter’s interests in the Security Council.

“I don’t think it — the Abraham Accords — prevents the UAE from trying to use that leverage,” she says. “Is the UAE able to use that leverage and does it want to use that leverage? I don’t think so.” The country is increasingly committed to its own economic and security interests and shifting from an interventionist foreign policy.

To pursue those former interests, the UAE controlled four ports in seven of the countries bordering the Red Sea: Egypt, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia as of 2017. In June 2022, however, less than a year after the Sudanese Generals Al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan (now leading the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group) contrived to dissolve the transitional government set-up in 2019, the UAE announced $6 billion worth of investment packages in the country, including a port.

Writing in the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, or AGSIW, a think tank, Umer Karim, a research fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said the UAE has in the past used General Hamdan as a “mercantile warlord client specializing in employing violence to secure political and economic capital in strategic theaters.”

Now that the Darfurian militia-commander-turned-army-general is playing for bigger stakes in his battle against General Al-Burhan, the UAE has been unable to rein in General Hamdan but has also resisted sending him military help. Despite this approach, Al Hussein told PassBlue that the country’s new foreign policy of economic transactions and regional stability did not mean it wouldn’t defend itself against any emerging threats.

Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as their countries assume the rotating presidency of the Security Council. Our invitation to interview the UAE envoy was not followed through by the mission. Instead, Al Hussein discussed relevant issues with PassBlue, including the country’s relationship with the Taliban and its foreign policy agenda. Listen to the full episode on UN-Scripted, a PassBlue podcast produced by Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu, on SoundCloud.

Our interview with Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh in March 2022.

Ambassador to the UN: Lana Nusseibeh, 44
Since: 2013
Languages: English, Arabic, French, Hebrew
Education: B.A. and M.A., Queen’s College, University of Cambridge; M.A. in Israeli and Jewish diaspora studies, University of London

Country’s Profile

President: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Foreign Affairs Minister: Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Type of Government: presidential, federal monarchy
Year UAE Joined the UN: 1971
Years on the Security Council: 1986-1987, 2022-2023
Population: 9.89 million
CO2 per capita emissions for 2019 (in tons): 20.5; US, in comparison, 14.7 (source)


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the UAE?

Damilola Banjo is a reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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UAE Oil Barons Could Help Lower Climate Flash Points in the Region
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Frank Makumbi
Frank Makumbi
1 year ago

The UAE’s engagement in addressing climate change and its impact on peace and security is commendable, but the involvement of oil moguls raises concerns about their motivations. The effectiveness of the UAE’s diplomatic approach, including the Abraham Accords, in advancing a two-state solution is questionable. While the emphasis on economic transactions and regional stability is understandable, it must be ensured that self-interest does not override the welfare of marginalized communities or exacerbate conflicts. The UAE’s growing influence in the Red Sea region warrants scrutiny to ensure respect for sovereignty and avoid interference. The absence of direct insights from Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh hinders a comprehensive understanding of the UAE’s perspectives. Vigilance is essential to assess the UAE’s actions for alignment with global interests, human rights, and sustainable development goals.

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