Leaked COP28 Documents Reveal Tangled Links between Soft Power and Sustainability

COP28 in Dubai will bring together nations, corporations, financiers, academics, and activists, with the stated aim of evaluating progress on climate and catalysing further action.

Documents published by the Centre for Climate Reporting this week appeared to indicate that the UAE will use its hosting of COP28 as an opportunity to discuss development plans for state energy company ADNOC and renewables pioneer Masdar with the delegations of other governments.

The story was presented as shocking by many major news organisations and with consternation by some activists. However, anyone familiar with the concept of ‘Soft Power’—a country’s ability to influence the preferences and behaviours of various actors in the international arena by persuasion or attraction rather than coercion—will be less that surprised at the news.

For many years now, the annual Conferences of the Parties have become stages for much more than the declared purpose– they are a crucible for both the creation and deployment of soft power, serving cultural, economic, diplomatic, political, and even military ends.

Brand Finance publishes the annual Global Soft Power Index, which tracks the national reputation and the factors that drive it. The latest edition demonstrates the increasingly powerful role that sustainability plays in the accumulation of soft power.

Nearly half of attributes (46%) that drive soft power have some linkage to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) themes, and there is a strong correlation between national reputation, national influence, and perceived sustainability.

Sofia Liszka, Senior Strategy & Sustainability Analyst at Brand Finance comments, “All nations must tread carefully at COP. Most corporate, governmental and third sector organizations are sanguine about the use of the conference for parallel commercial negotiations. Yet this must be conducted sensitively and not overshadow the demonstration of a genuinely held commitment to the fight against climate change and progress of wider sustainability and ESG agendas. Failing to strike this balance can erode national reputation and soft power in the longer term.”

Read our full take on sustainability’s reputational influence and contribution to soft power here: COP28 and Sustainability’s Contribution to Soft Power.

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