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Revealed: How Cop28 is sloshing over with ‘Big Oil’ lobbyists

Dr Sultan Al-Jaber, the United Arab Emirates politician and Cop28 president, speaks on Monday at the summit
Dr Sultan Al-Jaber, the United Arab Emirates politician and Cop28 president, speaks on Monday at the summit - KARIM SAHIB/AFP

A record number of fossil fuel delegates are attending the climate talks in the United Arab Emirates, campaigners have said.

Nearly 2,500 people connected to the coal, oil and gas industries have been registered for Cop28 in Dubai.

This is more than four times the number of delegates with fossil fuels backgrounds recorded last year at Cop27 in Egypt. At Cop26, in Glasgow, there were some 500 such delegates.

The Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition, a group of environmental non-governmental groups and businesses, studied the list of attendees after it was published on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) website on Nov 30.

Tougher registration procedures introduced by the UN are partly responsible for the increase as attendees need to be more transparent about who they work for.

However, campaigners say this is also down to fossil fuel delegates wanting to hinder plans to phase out fossil fuels.

Environmental activists display placards during a demonstration outside the Cop28 summit in Dubai
Environmental activists display placards during a demonstration outside the Cop28 summit in Dubai - KARIM SAHIB/AFP

George Carew-Jones, from the KBPO, told the BBC: “This does not account for the entire, significant uptick in lobbyist presence.

“These talks are rumoured to deliver progress on a phase out of fossil fuels, and the fossil fuel industry is here to influence that outcome as much as possible.”

It comes after Dr Sultan Al-Jaber, the United Arab Emirates politician and Cop28 president, said there was “no science” behind the demand to phase out fossil fuels.

He later claimed his views had been misrepresented, saying critics had sought to “undermine the work of the Cop28 presidency”.

He said: “Science has been central to my own career progress and yes, I respect the science in everything I do.

“I have said over and over that the phase down and the phase out of fossil fuel is inevitable.”

The analysis from KBPO found that a vast number of fossil fuel delegates are attending Cop28 as part of a trade association, with nine out of the 10 biggest of these groups coming from the Global North.

Climate activists protest against fossil fuel emitters and demand further contributions to Cop28's Loss and Damage Fund
Climate activists protest against fossil fuel emitters and demand further contributions to Cop28's Loss and Damage Fund - KARIM SAHIB/AFP

The Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Associations (IETA) brought 116 people, including representatives from Shell, TotalEnergies and Equinor, according to the findings.

France brought fossil fuel giants such as TotalEnergies and EDF, Italy brought a team of Eni representatives and the European Union brought employees of BP, Eni and ExxonMobil.

There have been growing calls from many quarters, including Global South countries, public officials, UN constituencies and wider civil society, to bar polluters from the international climate talks.

Alexia Leclercq, co-founder of environmental justice organisation Start:Empowerment, said: “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.”

Caroline Muturi, from sustainability group 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.”