Youth activists shout as they march to protest against climate inaction on the sidelines of the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow on Nov. 5, 2021. (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Oil and gas companies, known for lying about the climate crisis for decades, sent more representatives to this year’s UN climate conference than any single country—and twice as many delegates as the official constituency of Indigenous peoples, a new Global Witness analysis has found.
At least 503 Big Oil lobbyists from more than 100 companies, including Shell and BP, have attended the climate talks at COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland, “opening the door for them to continue delaying, distracting and deflecting from the action we need to address the climate crisis, largely caused by their industry,” the report says. To put that into perspective, there are more fossil-fuel delegates at the conference than the combined number of delegates from the eight countries most affected by the climate crisis—Bangladesh, Mozambique, Haiti, Philippines, Bahamas, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, and Myanmar, which together sent 464 delegates. There are also twice as many fossil-fuel lobbyists at the climate negotiations as there are members with the official UN constituency for Indigenous peoples, despite the fact that Indigenous peoples protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, often against fossil-fuel extraction. This year’s climate conference has proven to be particularly inaccessible as global vaccine inequality and costly COVID-related travel restrictions have prevented many people, especially people of colour, from attending it. Mexico, for example, sent a representative from a cement company, but not a 19-year-old Indigenous activist.
“We were shocked it was this bad,” said Global Witness lead data investigator Sam Leon.Fossil-fuel lobbyists also outnumber Brazil’s 479 delegates, the largest bloc sent by a single country. Canada, Brazil, and Russia included fossil-fuel representatives as part of their official fleet. (The move is seemingly at odds with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent election campaign, which touted ambitious climate targets.)“It’s hugely problematic,” said Leon. “The UN needs to get serious about proper conflict-of-interest policy. If you profit off of oil and gas and coal, you shouldn’t be there.”Ahead of the report, Global Witness analyzed the 1,600-page UN provisional list of registered participants at COP26 to spot names associated with fossil fuel companies or lobbyists who work for them. “Big oil and gas companies have been derailing effective action on the climate crisis for many decades now, and we knew that one root to this was through their influence at COP summits,” Leon said. The world urgently needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions to stave off worst-case scenario global warming—warming marked by average global temperatures rising by more than 1.5 C—which could render huge swaths of the planet completely uninhabitable.
That’s why it’s important to remove fossil fuel companies from global climate talks, Leon said. “I make the analogy with the tobacco industry: Obviously it’s not sensible to have tobacco lobbyists work on health policy.”Global Witness stuck to fossil-fuel companies for its latest analysis, but also in attendance are “straight-up denialists.” Last week, top oil execs were grilled by U.S. lawmakers for allegedly lying to the public about climate change, and VICE News reported that it may be game over for oil companies once more people learn about their well-documented efforts to stifle climate change information. According to an exclusive poll from VICE and the Guardian, it doesn’t take much to sway public opinion away from oil and gas companies: A simple reported paragraph exposing Big Oil lying about climate change can influence how people think.Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.