"We don't want to continue to be seen as only an exporter of oil through barrels or gas through pipelines," said Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the chief executive officer of Masdar and UAE's Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change.
"Our approach should be an energy mix approach where oil and gas continues to play a role, nuclear continues to play a catalytic role but the only energy source that will grow over time will be renewable energy," he said. "That is simply because the technology is maturing and the world better recognizes the need for advancing this technology."
Activists, though, want to see Gulf countries go further at the climate talks.
Former Irish President Mary Robinson said they should commit to voluntary emissions targets, like former conference host Mexico did. Gulf nations' total emissions are a fraction of China's and the United States', but setting targets would help inspire others to take action.
"Leadership of the Gulf countries is very important" she said at a meeting addressing climate change in Dubai.
Activists say they also could do more to cut fuel subsidies that make bottled water more expensive that gasoline in many Gulf countries, policies partly enacted to keep the lid on political dissent.
Others have called on the Gulf — which has some of the world's highest per capita incomes thanks to its vast petrodollars — to contribute to the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund. The fund aims to channel $100 billion annually by 2020 to aid to poor countries. So far, Gulf countries have contributed nothing.
"Qatar has a GDP per capita which is three times ours in Europe," EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told The Associated Press. "Should ... also the Qataris come up with some financing? So we have tried to encourage them. I don't know what the response will be, but let's see."
Expectations are also high that the Gulf countries will play a more productive and public role in negotiations, after years in which only the UAE countered Saudi Arabia's obstructionist tactics and its widely-ridiculed demands that OPEC members be compensated for loss of oil revenues in any agreement — a move criticized by impoverished nations who would be forced to compete with the world's top oil producer for aid.
Those views have been moderated, al-Attiya said, as Gulf countries recognize efforts to diversify their economies are not as difficult and costly as they once seemed. Still, Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia are demanding measures in any agreement that would assist them in shifting away from fossil fuels.
The Gulf countries want to have the right to use a diversity of energy sources, including both fossil fuels and renewables, said al-Attiya.
"It's not an excuse," al-Attiya said. "Every country wants that right, provided that right to diversify is governed by rules that say, for instance, you are not going to diversify at the expense of causing more damage to the environment. "
Associated Press writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.