28th Feb 2024


Will EU climate chief Hoekstra come clean before COP28?

  • Is Wopke Hoekstra still in touch with McKinsey or ex-colleagues? (Photo: European Union)
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As Biblical floods submerge southern Somalia — a year after being gripped by drought, and with scorching heat waves nearing 60 degrees Celsius asphyxiating Brazil, the newly-appointed EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra has a daunting task ahead of him in Dubai.

As he heads to the United Arab Emirates next week for the UN climate talks, COP28, one question looms large — will he deliver on increasing ambitions to tackle global heating, or will his long-standing ties to big polluters hold him back? First things first, we need full transparency on those ties.

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The European Parliament's newly-passed COP28 Resolution calls on Hoekstra to support a phase-out of all fossil fuels (not just unabated ones), provide our fair share of funding for the Loss & Damage Fund, as well as back a global target to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030.

That's why our resolution also calls for the UN to introduce a firewall to protect the climate talks from the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry, like the World Health Organisation did to the tobacco industry.

In June more than 130 US and EU lawmakers wrote to presidents Joe Biden and Ursua von der Leyen and UN climate chief Simon Stiell, calling on them to support such a policy.

Since then the first baby steps towards an ambitious Accountability Framework have already been agreed, with participants obliged to disclose who they work for. We must now go even further.

But given Hoesktra's pro-fossil fuel track record, can we expect him to deliver? After beginning his career at Dutch oil major Shell (who sent more lobbyists to COPs over the past 20 years than any other fossil fuel firm), he then spent 11 years at the consultancy McKinsey.

While the firm is notoriously tight-lipped about who it works for, known clients include Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Gazprom and Saudi Aramco.

These are all companies that oppose a phase out of fossil fuels and have consistently lobbied against climate action.

Hoekstra told MEPs that his clients at McKinsey did not include Shell or any other oil companies, but we know that the firm has worked for 43 out of the 100 most polluting companies in recent years.

Given McKinsey's pro-fossil fuel agenda and the now EU climate commissioner's length of service there, including in a senior role as a partner for five years (while also a Dutch senator), serious questions remain about his connections to big polluters and how that will influence his work at COP28.

Hoekstra has never been to a UN climate summit, but his ex-employer is in fact an advisor to this year's COP28 Presidency. A recent AFP investigation revealed McKinsey has been using its position "to push the interests of its big oil and gas clients, undermining efforts to end the use of the fossil fuels driving global warming".

This flatly contradicts the calls for ambition from the European Parliament.

Is Hoekstra still in touch with McKinsey or ex-colleagues?

Transparency remains an important first step. The Fossil Free Politics coalition, with civil society groups across Europe, raised legitimate concerns at his nomination and now support MEPs call for Hoekstra to disclose his McKinsey clients before heading to COP28. He has already promised the parliament that he would do so in early October, but we have heard nothing since. In addition, he should also disclose what connections he may still have with the firm.

The European Parliament has clearly called to protect the UN climate talks from the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry, but is the head of the EU negotiating team himself a conduit for that influence?

As MEPs, we call on Hoekstra to prove his independence by ensuring the EU Commission backs up UN efforts to introduce an Accountability Framework to shield climate discussions from undue big polluter influence, which would mean no more oil execs as COP presidents and no more fossil fuel interference in the climate talks.

COP28 will be a litmus test for the new EU commissioner and where his true interests lie.

Author bio

Manon Aubry is a French MEP and vice-president of The Left group. Marie Toussaint is a French MEP and vice-chair of The Greens. Pierre Larrouturou is a French MEP with the Socialists & Democrats. With new research from the business lobbying NGO Corporate Europe Observatory.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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