Fossil fuel delegates attended Cops at least 7,200 times over 20 years – study

A coalition has looked at the number of fossil fuel delegates attending Cops over the years (David Jones/PA)
A coalition has looked at the number of fossil fuel delegates attending Cops over the years (David Jones/PA)

Delegates linked to the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies and trade groups have attended UN-led climate talks at least 7,200 times over the last 20 years, according to analysis.

The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition looked into the number of times delegates from the world’s top-producing oil and gas firms, and trade bodies, showed up at climate talks since Cop9 in 2003.

The analysis found that representatives from trade associations representing the world’s largest polluting companies have attended Cops at least 6,581 times.

The campaigners claimed that delegates do not always declare their affiliation to the organisation they work for, so the figures are likely higher.

One trade organisation, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), whose members include fossil fuel giants such as BP, has been given at least 2,769 passes to attend the climate talks over the years, the research found.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has also been one of the most represented groups at the summit, and has had at least 979 passes, followed by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), which has had at least 558 passes.

Of the top 20 trade groups identified in the study, all are headquartered in the Global North, according to the analysis.

The campaigners said this “underscores how organisations from countries who are most responsible for global emissions are dominating the climate talks, attempting to influence progress on climate action that most directly impacts Global South communities who have done the least to cause the climate crisis”.

The research also found that disclosed employees of Big Oil firms attended the conferences a minimum of 945 times with staff from the world’s five biggest oil giants, including Shell and BP, receiving at least 267 passes.

Among the oil and gas employees the campaigners were able to identify, Shell was found to have sent the most staff to talks over the years, with at least 115 passes, followed by BP with 56.

The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition said the varying formats of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) attendance lists from year to year and the failure to require participants to disclose their affiliations until recently made processing names difficult.

It said the findings could, therefore, be “the tip of the iceberg of fossil fuel influence, as many will not have been detected as part of this investigation”.

Cop27 summit
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses delegates during the Cop27 summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last year (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The campaign also noted that those with fossil fuel interests have also attended Cops in delegations that do not reflect their affiliation, citing BP’s former chief executive Bernard Looney attending Cop27 as part of Mauritania’s delegation.

Brenna TwoBears, Keep It In The Ground lead co-ordinator at the Indigenous Environmental Network, said: “Why did fossil fuel lobbyists outnumber indigenous peoples by 200% at Cop26?

“These greedy corporations cannot be allowed into the UNFCCC because fossil fuels tip the world closer and closer to extinction every day.”

George Carew-Jones, from Youngo youth constituency of the UNFCCC, said: “The UN has no conflict of interest rules for Cops.

“This unbelievable fact has allowed fossil fuel lobbyists to undermine talks for years, weakening the process that we are all relying on to secure our futures.”

A spokesperson for UN Climate Change said it is “supporting the intergovernmental negotiating process on climate change” with participants nominated by parties, observers and media organisations.

“In order to increase the transparency of the UNFCCC process, for the upcoming UN Climate Change conference Cop28 taking place in Dubai (UAE) changes to the registration procedure have been introduced,” they said.

These changes include the conference’s “List of Participants” making public all badges types – not just those relating to contained delegations and observer organisations.

They will incorporate information provided during registration, including new requirements such as relationship and affiliation to nominating entities.

IETA said its diverse membership “joins together in support of a clear mission favouring business engagement in climate action consistent with the UNFCCC’s objectives through effective market-based trading systems that are fair, open, efficient, accountable and consistent across national boundaries.

“We encourage our members to make public their emissions and plans for addressing climate change.

“We are committed to serve as constructive observers of UN negotiations, honouring its guidelines for observers”.

The BCSE said they believe the coalition’s data “mischaracterises” the organisation’s mission and record of engagement with the UNFCCC, adding that it is a clean energy and energy efficiency trade association with a sector focus on the energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy industries.

Lizzie Stricklin, communications manager at Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said: “The Business Council for Sustainable Energy has been providing constructive business engagement as an observer to the UNFCCC since the treaty was adopted and has a clear record of supporting policies to reduce emissions and increase resilience.”

A spokesperson for Shell said: “Each year, a small number of Shell staff attend Cop to gather insights and latest policy developments, engage with stakeholders and strengthen collaborations. Shell staff attend as observers.

“We work to do business in a clear, open way and promote transparency throughout our industry. This includes at Cop, where the list of our attendees is publicly available.

“We also publish a number of transparency reports detailing our policy positions and advocacy efforts on our website.”

A spokesman for BP said: “For the world to meet the Paris goals, it will take action from governments, companies and societies around the world. It will also take collaboration, and all voices being heard.

“We welcome the Cop28 presidency’s call for a truly inclusive Cop – bringing together everyone in support of actions that can deliver a comprehensive transformation.”

PA has contacted WBCSD for comment.