Record Number Of Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Attend COP28 Climate Summit

Nearly 2,500 fossil fuel lobbyists are roaming the halls of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai — a record number that’s nearly four times the industry’s presence at last year’s negotiations.

That’s according to a new analysis from Kick Big Polluters Out, a coalition of groups that advocates for ridding the annual climate talks of fossil fuel industry influence. The coalition combed through a provisional list of COP28 participants and identified at least 2,456 attendees with various ties to fossil fuels.

That number dwarfs the previous record of 636 sector lobbyists at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt. The spike can likely be largely attributed to new rules requiring fossil fuel lobbyists and all other participants at this year’s conference to disclose their affiliation.

Still, the coalition said it is likely a “conservative” estimate since it only counts those who did in fact note industry ties. The new rules, while celebrated among advocates as an important step toward accountability, do allow for participants to opt out of the disclosure requirement, with those refusals being made public.

Industry representation at the United Nations climate talks have surged in recent years alongside demands that corporate lobbyists be barred or limited from participating. Climate and environmental advocates have long argued that the industry most responsible for climate breakdown has become a powerful force at the talks, corrupting negotiations and ultimately stymying progress to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“2023 was a year like no other. Record temperatures, record levels of emissions, and now we see a record attendance from Big Polluters at U.N. climate talks,” Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan of Climate Action Network International, a member of the KBPO coalition, said in a statement accompanying the analysis’s release. “The window to preserve a livable 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.”

People participate in a protest against fossil fuels at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit on Monday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
People participate in a protest against fossil fuels at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit on Monday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

The threat of industry interference has been front and center at COP28, which kicked off late last week. This year’s president, Sultan Al Jaber, is also the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the UAE’s state-owned oil company. Before the event got underway, the Centre for Climate Reporting and the BBC reported on leaked documents that allegedly detail Al Jaber plans to leverage his role as head of the summit to secure oil and gas deals with other countries. Al Jaber and COP28 leadership have denied the reporting.

It remains to be seen if negotiators can strike agreements to significantly move the needle on climate during this year’s summit. What is clear is that fossil fuel interests saw something they liked in this year’s event and flocked to Dubai in droves.

KBPO’s analysis found that industry lobbyists outnumbered delegates from the 10 most climate vulnerable nations combined, which had 1,609 total participants. Additionally, industry representation is seven times that of Indigenous groups, according to the tally.

KPBO counts as a fossil fuel lobbyist any delegate who “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.” The group found that a majority of those delegates are affiliated with major trade associations in developed countries, including the International Emissions Trading Association, whose members include oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips. The IETA alone has at least 116 people at the summit.

“Polluting companies and their government enablers continue to invest billions in new oil and gas,” David Tong of Oil Change International, a climate advocacy group, said in a statement. “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.”

The lobbyist report comes one day after Al Jaber was forced, once again, to defend himself against conflict of interest accusations. The Guardian reported Sunday on a recent exchange in which Al Jaber forcefully claimed that there is “no science out there” to support the idea that limiting planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal of the landmark Paris climate agreement, requires phasing out oil, gas and coal.

During a tense press conference Monday morning, Al Jaber walked back that previous statement, saying phasing out fossil fuels is “inevitable” and “essential,” while bizarrely claiming that the media had taken his words “out of context, with misrepresentation and misinterpretation.” He added that while he is “grateful and appreciative” for fossil fuel and other industries for coming to the table and committing to reduce emissions, they “can do much more.”

“So are they doing enough — even though they have responded after tough and hard discussions, they have responded and they’ve stepped up — is this enough?” he said. “The answer is no.”

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