Climate Change

In whose interest? Close to 2,500 fossil fuel lobbyists present at COP28 climate talks, reveals analysis

Lobbyists outnumber official indigenous representatives by over seven times, says coalition Kick Big Polluters Out

By Seema Prasad
Published: Wednesday 06 December 2023
Alarmingly, there are more than seven times the number of fossil fuel lobbyists permitted entry to the Dubai talks than official indigenous representatives, the analysis said. Photo: UNclimatechange / Flickr

A new analysis has presented a conflict of interest at the ongoing  28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai, United Arab Emirates — there’s a record attendance of fossil fuel lobbyists at the climate summit.

At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists were on the list of provisional participants on the UNFCCC website, found climate movement Kick Big Polluters Out’s in-depth study. The coalition of 450 organisations across the globe called on governments to establish a UNFCCC Accountability Framework to protect against undue influence of polluting interests.

Last year, 636 fossil fuel lobbyists were at COP27, up from 503 at COP26.

Read more: Exxon knew: Big Oil’s scientists documented accurate climate predictions since 1970s, 1980s

Despite 2023 being the hottest year on record and communities on the frontline bearing the brunt, the lobbyists received more passes than ten countries most affected by climate change combined (1,509), the study found. 

The most climate-vulnerable nations include Somalia (366), Chad (554), Niger (135), Guinea-Bissau (43), Micronesia (26), Tonga (79), Eritrea (7), Sudan (46), Liberia (197), Solomon Islands (56).

Alarmingly, there are more than seven times the number of fossil fuel lobbyists permitted entry to the Dubai talks than official indigenous representatives, the analysis said.

The number of lobbyists was only surpassed by the number of delegates brought by Brazil and the UAE — 3,081 and 4,409 people, respectively. 

One key way that representatives of fossil fuel companies gain access to COP is through trade associations, most of which belong to the Global North. Based in Geneva, the International Emissions Trading Association brought the most number of lobbyists (116),  including oil and gas companies such as Shell, TotalEnergies and Equinor. 

Some of the other trade associations are the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (54), Carbon Capture and Storage Association (28), Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America (27), Carbon Market Institute Limited (23) and BusinessEurope (18).

Read more: ‘50 years of deception’: California sues five Big Oil companies for lying about climate change

Certain countries, too, did not shy away from including fossil fuel giants in their delegation. For instance, TotalEnergies and EDF were brought by France and employees of BP, ENI and ExxonMobil were brought by the European Union.

Condemning this in a statement, Ogunlade Olamide Martins, programme manager of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, said: “To share seats with the Big Polluters in climate change conversations is to dine with the devil. This unholy matrimony will only endorse ‘conflict of interest’ and further facilitate the silence of honest agitation.” 

Martins added, “COP’s conclusions must be independent of industries’ parasitic influences and must only address the concerns of the vulnerable masses.”

In August 2022, a joint statement by civil society was drafted and submitted to recommend a framework that sets the rules of engagement for Big Oil companies at UN climate Talks. It suggested the following:

  • Setting a definition of what constitutes a ‘conflict of interest’
  • Setting protocols that comprise the Accountability Framework, including
    i) determining criteria for distinguished types of representatives and non-party stakeholders;
    ii) establishing rules of engagement;
    iii) guiding handling of potential conflict of interest cases across existing representatives or new applicants.
  • Establishing conflict-of-interest accountability mechanisms to enforce and monitor the accountability framework.  

Read more: Methane: Oil firms downplay greenhouse gas’ emissions, finds DTE analysis

Moreover, the climate pledges of Big Oil companies fall short significantly, according to a 2023 assessment of TotalEnergies, Eni and Equinor’s climate plans by Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organisation.

In 2023, companies Total, Eni and Equinor announced record profits of $36.2 billion, $14 billion and $28.7 billion, respectively. None of the profits were diverted towards developing renewable energy and were used to primarily increase fossil fuel investment.

It demonstrated they were not meeting the bare minimum requirements of the Paris Agreement, therefore, making their presence at COP28 questionable.

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