Record Number of Fossil Fuel Lobbyists at COP28, Environmentalists Say

A group representing a coalition of environmental groups combed through the public list of people granted access to the United Nations COP28 climate talks and found at least 2,456 people the group considers fossil fuel lobbyists.

The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition said that means that COP28, underway in Dubai, has the greatest number of participants affiliated with fossil fuel interests known to attend one of the annual U.N. climate negotiations.

“The sheer number of fossil fuel lobbyists at climate talks that could determine our future is beyond justification,” Joseph Sikulu, a coalition member and Pacific managing director for the nonprofit group 350.org, said in a statement. “Their increasing presence at COP undermines the integrity of the process as a whole.”

The coalition did similar analyses of the last two COPs and found a sharp increase in the number of people affiliated with fossil fuel interests.

At last year’s gathering in Egypt, the group identified 636 fossil fuel lobbyists, and 503 when the COP was held in Scotland in 2021. Over the past 20 COP gatherings, the group found, people representing fossil fuel interests attended COPs at least 7,200 times.

The U.N. talks have already come under fire from several environmental groups and climate change researchers for apparent conflicts of interest by this year’s leadership. Host nation United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil producers, appointed an executive at the UAE’s national oil company to be president of COP28.

COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber has pushed back against his critics, including in his opening statements on the first day of talks.

“Let history reflect the fact that this is the presidency that made a bold choice to proactively engage with oil and gas companies,” Al Jaber said, and he has touted an agreement with oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions as proof that the industry can be part of climate solutions.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Climate John Kerry has defended Al Jaber, who has also held an executive position with the UAE’s renewable energy company.

Climate activists have sought greater transparency in the COP process and requirements to disclose potential conflicts of interest. COP28 is the first to operate under new transparency rules, and people attending must disclose who they represent.

To conduct its analysis, the coalition defined a fossil fuel lobbyist as an attendee who “can be reasonably assumed” to work to influence outcomes to favor a fossil fuel company.

That included delegates who had self-declared ties to fossil fuel companies and members of groups with fossil fuel interests. Many of the delegates the group identified as fossil fuel lobbyists were attending COP28 as part of a trade association.

According to the group’s analysis, Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association, IETA, has 116 people at COP28, including representatives from Shell, French petroleum conglomerate TotalEnergies, and Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor.

When contacted for a comment, a spokesperson for IETA instead offered the organization’s policy on COP participation, which calls for delegates to adhere to U.N. standards and requirements for attendance at a COP.

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