Emirati officials are concerned the country’s image could be tarnished by criticisms raised around the UN climate conference taking place there in December, and they are creating public relations strategies to limit the damage, the New York Times reports. The reporting is based on a recording of a February meeting between Emirati officials and COP28 organizers — obtained by the London-based Centre for Climate Reporting and shared with the Times.

“Alarm bells are going off,” said one Emirati official who the New York Times identifies as head of the human rights office at the presidential court.

“COPs have evolved, obviously, over time. Now they’re an outlet for activism and for youth activism,” Sconaid McGeachin, a public relations specialist hired by the Emirates to serve as communications director for the summit, said. “They will use this opportunity to attack the UAE. We need to preserve the reputation of the UAE, to look at how we can protect that and enhance its reputation, and to try and minimize those attacks as much as possible.”

McGeachin suggested the UAE should attempt to head off human rights criticisms by engaging with groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but the UAE official insisted, “Conversations should be limited to those directly associated with climate change,” adding it was crucial that COP28, “not [be] used as a free pass to throw everything at us.”

“If the complaint is that HRW and other groups will use COP28 to highlight human rights issues in the UAE, they are absolutely correct,” Joey Shea, an investigator at Human Rights Watch, told the Times. “The climate crisis is a human rights crisis, and governments at COP28 have a human rights obligation to address climate change.” (New York Times $)