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Fossil fuel interests have large presence at climate talks

By Associated Press
Published: November 8, 2023, 6:36pm
4 Photos
The sun sets behind the COP27 logo outside the venue of the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit on Nov. 12, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The sun sets behind the COP27 logo outside the venue of the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit on Nov. 12, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

The badges said they were there to participate in negotiations to curb climate change. They stated affiliations like the government of Brazil, Indigenous organizations of the Amazon, the Climate Registry. But in reality, the livelihoods of these participants were more aligned with what’s keeping the problem going: fossil fuels.

Close to 400 people connected in some way or another to fossil fuel industries attended last year’s United Nations’ climate talks in Egypt, a grouping that was larger than all but two of the national delegations sent by countries, according to a data analysis of the more than 24,000 participants by The Associated Press.

As United Nations leaders, scientists and others called for an eventual elimination of coal, oil and natural gas, various delegations included attendees who in some way owed part or all of their paychecks to fossil fuel burning. Many of these same people, and possibly even more connected to fossil fuels, will likely be at this year’s official climate talks, known as Conference of Parties or COP, being hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a major oil producing country.

“There’s outsized influence,” said Center for Biological Diversity’s Jean Su, who sits on the board that represents civil society and environmental groups at these meetings. “These COPs are often wining-and-dining fests for fossil fuel corporations that want to profit off of climate.”

While the presence is palpable—such as oil countries and companies with huge, flashy stands in the trades pavilions—the influence is hard to quantify because much of the negotiating is done behind closed doors.

These annual meetings, which have occurred since 1995, convene in different cities each year. The host city runs the event and sets the agenda. Because the upcoming summit, COP28, is in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates got to choose the president, picking the CEO of its national oil company, Sultan al-Jaber.

As to be expected at a summit focused on the environment, there are many environmental activists, more than 750 last year, by AP’s count. But they say their voices are not being heard, and instead the lobbying of fossil fuel interests are why climate talks have yet to produce an agreement to phase out coal, oil and natural gas, as scientists have repeatedly said must happen to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, like extreme weather events.

Range of affiliations

The AP analyzed the affiliations of attendees of COP27, reviewing details they offered on their badges. Those details were checked against lists of operators and owners of coal mines, oil fields and natural gas plants, as well as manufacturers of carbon-intensive materials like steel and cement.

Attendees in 2022 included top executives of BP, Shell, Equinor and TotalEnergies. The head of the world’s largest oil and gas firm, Saudi Aramco, was at the site on a “sideline” event. And al-Jaber, chief of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, was also there and will be in charge of this year’s climate negotiations. The operations and products of those companies and others are huge contributors to climate change.

It wasn’t just fossil fuel giants that showed up.

Take Mercuria Energy. The Switzerland-based firm calls itself “one of the world’s largest energy traders,” with 69 percent of their 2022 traded volumes in oil and natural gas. The firm is also a part-owner in Vesta Terminals, which operates storage terminals that hold crude oil, petroleum products and other liquids, as well as a marine fuels company called Minerva Bunkering.