Industry influx escalates call to protect talks from Big Polluters
LONDON 5th December 2023: At least 2456 fossil fuel lobbyists have been granted access to the COP28 summit in Dubai, signalling an unprecedented presence at crucial climate talks from representatives of some of the world’s biggest polluters, according to a new analysis from the Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition.
In a year when global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions shattered records, there has been an explosion of fossil fuel lobbyists heading to UN talks, with nearly four times more than were granted access last year. This uptick coincides with a COP where fossil fuels and their phaseout are a focal point. It also elevates the growing call from Global South countries, public officials, UN constituencies, and wider civil society to eject polluters from talks.
There are significantly more fossil lobbyists granted access to COP28 than almost every country delegation – the 2456 fossil fuel lobbyists are only outnumbered by the 3081 people brought by Brazil (which is expected to host COP30), and the UAE, which as COP28 host brought 4409 people.
The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition analysed the provisional list of participants at COP28 line-by-line in the most in-depth study into the fossil fuel industry’s presence at any talks to date. Among the additional topline findings:
- Fossil fuel lobbyists have received more passes to COP28 than all the delegates from the ten most climate vulnerable nations combined (1509), underscoring how industry presence is dwarfing that of those on the frontlines of the crisis.
- A vast number of fossil fuel lobbyists were granted access to the COP as part of a trade association. Nine out of the ten biggest of these groups came from the Global North. The largest was the Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), who brought 116 people including representatives from Big Polluters Shell, TotalEnergies and Norway’s Equinor.
- In a further sign that COP28 is being used by Big Polluters as an opportunity to advance a fossil-fuelled agenda at the expense of frontline communities, there are more than seven times the number of fossil fuel lobbyists permitted entry to the Dubai talks than official indigenous representatives (316).
- France brought fossil fuel giants such as TotalEnergies and EDF as part of its country delegation, Italy brought a team of ENI representatives, and the European Union brought employees of BP, ENI and ExxonMobil.
Responding to the findings, Alexia Leclercq, Start:Empowerment, Co-founder said:
“Do you really think Shell or Chevron or ExxonMobil are sending lobbyists to passively observe these talks? To advance climate solutions for the benefit of communities whose air and water they pollute? To put people and the planet over profit and their greedy dollars? Big Polluters’ poisonous presence has bogged us down for years, keeping us from advancing the pathways needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They are the reason COP28 is clouded in a fog of climate denial, not climate reality.”
And Caroline Muturi from IBON Africa said:
“These findings tell us that the dynamics within these spaces remain fundamentally colonial. It comes as no surprise that the majority of the corporations influencing these talks are from the Global North. In years past COPs have become an avenue for many companies to greenwash their polluting businesses and foist dangerous distractions from real climate action. This hinders the meaningful participation of African communities and the rest of the Global South in shaping climate policies that will primarily affect them.”
Hwei Mian Lim, Women and Gender Constituency said:
“If governments had required oil and gas groups to decarbonise from the outset in line with what science says is needed to limit climate change’s worse impacts, we would not be in our current state of all-out emergency. We are where we are because of years of denial, delay and false solutions from the very groups that are responsible for the problem.”
Corporate access and lobbying at UN climate talks isn’t limited to the fossil fuel industry. Other polluting industries deeply implicated in the climate crisis such as finance, agribusiness, and transportation are also present, although they are not included in this analysis.
Our estimate is likely to be conservative. KBPO only counts delegates who openly disclose their connections to fossil fuel interests, and not those who access the talks using a different professional affiliation. KBPO also relied solely on public sources like company websites, news coverage or databases like InfluenceMap’s to connect delegates to fossil fuel interests.
The number of fossil fuel representatives at UN climate talks has been increasing over time, though the industry has been present since their inception. These findings build on calls in recent years to protect the UN’s climate negotiations by establishing clear conflict of interest policies and accountability measures, with countries collectively representing almost 70% of the world’s population having requested these conflicts of interest be addressed.
This year for the first time, thanks to sustained pressure from civil society, people attending COP28 were required to disclose who they represent, revealing many lobbyists who would likely have attended previous COPs incognito.
Last year, KBPO’s analysis showed that at least 636 fossil fuel lobbyists were granted access to the COP27 climate talks in Egypt, up from 503 the year before that in Glasgow. And recent findings from KBPO have also found that fossil fuel lobbyists have attended COPs at least 7200 times over the last two decades.
The Kick Big Polluters Out campaign is calling on the UN climate body and governments to continue on the road towards a robust Accountability Framework to address the problem at its root, as with the tobacco industry at the World Health Organisation tobacco treaty talks.
Additional quotes from KBPO members:
“2023 was a year like no other. Record temperatures, record levels of emissions, and now we see a record attendance from Big Polluters at UN climate talks. The window to preserve a liveable planet is rapidly closing. At the same time, ever greater numbers of Big Polluters are allowed to roam around this summit, which communities on the frontlines cannot afford to have fail again.” Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan – Head Building Power, Climate Action Network International
“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. COP’s conclusions must be independent of industries’ parasitic influences and must only address the concerns of the vulnerable masses.”
– Ogunlade Olamide Martins, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa – Program Manager
“The sheer number of fossil fuel lobbyists at climate talks that could determine our future is beyond justification. Their increasing presence at COP undermines the integrity of the process as a whole. We come here to fight for our survival and what chance do we have if our voices are suffocated by the influence of Big Polluters? This poisoning of the process needs to end, we will not let oil and gas influence the future of the Pacific this heavily.” Joseph Sikulu, Pacific Managing Director, 350.org
“It is clear that this COP is not here to take true climate action to address the climate crisis. This is evident in how the UNFCCC permits nearly eight times the amount of badges for fossil fuel lobbyists than Indigenous delegates from the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. The only investment here is in false solutions, like market and trading mechanisms that depend on a continued increase in emissions. False solutions like the Energy Transition Accelerator (ETA), launched by US Climate Envoy claims that “fossil fuel companies would not participate in the program,” when the very economic foundation of carbon offsets relies on the expansion of fossil fuels and carbon, not less. We will not stand by while false solutions are heralded as the solution to the climate crisis. There is only one solution: decolonization and an Indigenous Just Transition away from all extractive systems.” Brenna Two Bears, Lead Coordinator at Indigenous Environmental Network
“Why do we see little progress in fighting the climate crisis? We all know the answer by now: because the influence of Big Polluters continues to be seen and even grows in some places like the COP! It also became more and more visible thanks to new transparency requirements for COP 28 and courageous whistleblowers who take risks to denounce unacceptable conflicts of interest.
It is time for a proper climate accountability framework!” Brice Böhmer, Climate & Environment Lead, Transparency International.
“There’s no question these numbers are among the worst we’ve seen, but make no mistake: they are simply further illustration of Big Polluters’ decades-long campaign to deny, and delay global climate action.” Eric Njuguna, youth climate justice organizer, Fridays for Future
“New disclosure requirements secured as a long-overdue victory by civil society are giving us a clearer and clearer picture of exactly how vast and deep Big Polluters’ interference is in the halls of climate action. But it’s not enough to be transparent about the interference that is happening here. It needs to be rooted out. It’s time to end the ability of Big Polluters to write the rules of climate action, once and for all.” Scott Kirby, UKYCC, Campaigner
“The 2456 fossil fuel company employees and lobbyists have no place in the climate negotiations. Oil and gas companies and their enablers – the climate arsonists fuelling climate chaos – cannot be trusted to help put out the fire or deliver what we need: a full, fast, fair, and funded fossil fuel phase out. Our Big Oil Reality Check analysis finds that the grossly insufficient climate pledges of BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and TotalEnergies will drive the planet off the critical 1.5ºC global warming cliff.
“Polluting companies and their government enablers continue to invest billions in new oil and gas. If governments leave the “when” and “how” of the end of oil and gas up to profit-driven executives, the outcome will be disastrous for people and the planet – fossil fuel lobbyists must be kicked out of COP,” David Tong, Oil Change International, Global Industry Campaign Manager
“Oil and gas companies have spent decades delaying climate action, and continue to do so at these talks in record numbers. They talk about being our saviours whilst only increasing oil and gas production and profits. The young people of the world cannot rely on them to safeguard our future” – George Carew-Jones, YOUNGO youth constituency of the UNFCCC.
Kick Big Polluters Out is a coalition of more than 450 organizations across the globe united in demanding an end to the ability of Big Polluters to write the rules of climate action. Find more on the coalition and its demands here.
Notes to editor
- The top ten most climate vulnerable nations with delegations at COP28 are: Somalia (366), Chad (554), Niger (135), Guinea-Bissau (43), Micronesia (26), Tonga (79), Eritrea (7), Sudan (46), Liberia (197), Solomon Islands (56).
- The top ten biggest trade associations in attendance representing the fossil fuel industry are International Emissions Trading Association (116), Clean Resource Innovation Network (60), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (54), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (49), Business Council for Sustainable Energy (32), Carbon Capture and Storage Association (28), Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America (27), International Chamber of Commerce (26), Carbon Market Institute Limited (23), BusinessEurope (18).
The UNFCCC’s list of provisional participants is released as a record of everyone that has been granted access to COP28. This year’s list was published on the 30th of November on the UNFCCC’s website.
These individuals gain access to COP28 by attending in official groups. These groups, called delegations, are divided into government, UN bodies, intergovernmental organisations, non-government organisations, and media – information that is also provided in the list. Since the UNFCCC updated its policy on registration, each individual delegate is now mandated to include information on who they work for, which means far greater transparency on the identity of delegates.
We believe it is reasonable to assume that anyone who applied to attend COP is attempting to influence the policy debate around climate change. For the purposes of this exercise, we consider a fossil fuel lobbyist to be any individual delegate that can be reasonably assumed to have the objective of influencing the formulation or implementation of policy or legislation in the interests of a fossil fuel company and its shareholders.
If we found that the delegate had self-declared its ties to either a fossil fuel company, an organisation with fossil fuel interests, or any foundation directly associated by ownership or control with a fossil fuel company that would lead us to classify them as a fossil fuel lobbyist in the context of their presence at COP28.
An anonymised list of the 2456 fossil fuel lobbyists is available upon request.
To analyse the UNFCCC’s delegates list as quickly as possible, our team used a combination of scripted automation and manual classification. We used a script to compare this year’s list of delegates against three other lists of potential attendees who we would qualify as fossil fuel lobbyists, prepared in the months leading up to COP. Once we completed this automated cross-check, our team then verified the entire list line by line – first, by checking whether the auto-populated suggested classifications were accurate, and then by classifying the delegates for whom we did not get any automatic crossmatch results.
In determining whether a delegate has any ties that would qualify them as a fossil fuel lobbyist, we only considered the information provided in the UNFCCC’s list. This includes both the delegation through which the individual is attending COP, and any further affiliation the delegate opted to disclose. If someone did not choose to explicitly state an affiliation to a fossil fuel company or fossil fuel-affiliated organisation in their application to be a delegate at this year’s COP, we were unable to classify them as a fossil fuel lobbyist.
All of our decisions to classify a delegate as a fossil fuel lobbyist were justified using open sources that are easily verifiable, including the websites of companies and trade groups, lobbying registers, and media reports by credible news outlets. We are also grateful for the opportunity to consult data shared by InfluenceMap, an independent think tank producing data-driven analysis on how business and finance are impacting the climate crisis.
The strict nature of our methodology results in a conservative estimate rather than a complete figure. With additional time and resources, we would no doubt uncover many more lobbyists in attendance at the COP. We do not publish the names of any individual delegates, only the organisations with whom they are affiliated.
We consider a fossil fuel company to be any company that has significant business activities in the exploration, extraction, refining, trading, specialised transportation of fossil fuels or sale of electricity derived from them.
A company has significant business activities in fossil fuels if it publicly declares that it is involved commercially in the handling of a fossil fuel (exploration, extraction, refining, trading, processing, distribution to consumers) OR who promotes publicly that is has significant investments in such companies. We would consider a foundation directly associated by ownership or control with a fossil fuel company as a fossil fuel foundation.
An organisation representing fossil fuel interests is a trade association or other organisation that represents the interests of a fossil fuel company’s management and/or shareholders. To qualify, it must have significant involvement of fossil fuel companies or their senior employees in their governance structure (either board of directors or corporate members) OR promote publicly that its purpose is to represent a fossil fuel industry OR have a recent track record of lobbying for pro-fossil fuel positions. This includes UNFCCC classified “international governmental organisations” that have a focus on promoting the fossil fuel industries of its member countries.