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29th Feb 2024

'7,200 fossil-fuel lobby passes' at 20 years of UN climate summits

  • Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, attended last year's climate talks as part of a German NGO delegation. And former BP CEO Bernard Looney did so as part of the Mauritanian delegation (Photo: Unsplash)
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Fossil-fuel lobbyists have attended UN climate talks at least 7,200 times over the past two decades to water down efforts to tackle climate change, according to a new analysis by the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition, a global network of more than 450 organisations.

The analysis, published on Tuesday (20 November), comes ahead of the next COP28 in Dubai (30 November) and after years of controversy over industry interference in the talks.

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Just last year, Coca-Cola, one of the world's biggest plastic polluters, sponsored the negotiations. And it was not alone.

Eighteen of the 20 sponsors of COP27 were linked to the fossil-fuel industry, according to research by the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory.

And controversy already surrounds the upcoming COP28, which will be chaired by Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the top 15 companies responsible for carbon emissions, according to the US-based Climate Accountability Institute.

"The COP must be freed from polluting companies, or the COP becomes partly responsible for global collapse," Pablo Fajardo, from the Union of Affected Communities by Texaco/Chevron, said.

Since 2003, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has granted at least 7,200 passes to trade associations and delegates from the world's biggest-polluting oil and gas companies, the analysis shows.

The majority of these passes (6,581) were given to representatives of trade associations including the world's biggest fossil-fuel polluters, and 945 of these went to disclosed employees of companies such as the 'Big 5' oil giants — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, and TotalEnergies.

One trade organisation, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) — a "purely business group" founded in 1999 according to their website — has itself received almost 2,800 passes to climate talks since COP9 in 2003.

"When you have industry's emission trading attack dog (IETA) sending more lobbyists since 2003 than scores of Global South countries combined, is it any wonder negotiations have wasted time we don't have prioritising dangerous distractions and false solutions like carbon markets?" Pat Bohland from Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) complained.

Indeed, carbon capture will be one of the hot topics at the UN-led climate talks in Dubai. The technology is being touted by oil and gas lobbyists as a solution to the climate crisis, while NGOs such as Global Witness point out that more than 80 percent of proposed projects worldwide have failed.

Over the past 20 years, Shell has been the company that has sent the most staff members to UN-led talks, with around 115 passes issued by the UNFCCC, according to the research.

Just last year, Shell declared an EU lobbying budget of €4m, followed by Exxon's €3.5m, making it one of the top 10 spending companies in 2022.

In addition, all the top 20 business groups at the climate talks are headquartered in the Global North, undermining the influence of those in the Global South who have least contributed to the climate crisis.

Under the radar

COP delegates have to be hosted by an official delegation from a government or accredited organisation, but until now not all of them declare their affiliation, thus slipping under the UNFCC radar.

Last year, for example, Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, attended the climate talks as part of a German NGO delegation. And former BP CEO Bernard Looney did so as part of the Mauritanian delegation.

"The UN has no conflict-of-interest rules for COPs," said George Carew-Jones, from the YOUNGO youth consistency at the UNFCC.

"This unbelievable fact has allowed fossil-fuel lobbyists to undermine talks for years, weakening the process that we are all relying on to secure our futures," Carew-Jones added.

The conflict of interest policies and accountability mechanisms are still not strong enough to ensure that these groups do not obstruct efforts to avert total climate collapse, the coalition believes.

Last June, the UNFCC took a step in the direction of tightening these rules by mandating COP attendees to disclose their affiliation prior to their participation. A step welcomed by the civil society organisations, but one that needs to be followed by many others, they said.

"Addressing the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry and other 'Big Polluters' must begin, not end, with this step forward," Tasneem Essop, executive director at Climate Action Network International said in June 2023.

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