The world’s biggest climate conference is underway in Dubai, U.A.E., and this year’s summit appears to have a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists sharing space with climate activists and government representatives at COP28.
The organization Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO), which is opposed to the presence of fossil fuel companies at the event, analyzed “the provisional list of participants at COP28” and found that 2,456 people on that list at the conference had ties to the fossil fuel industry.
This year’s Conference of Parties (COP) comes as 2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record, according to the United Nations.
Only two countries – Brazil and hosts U.A.E. – had more representatives than the oil and gas industry at 3,081 and 4,409, respectively, KBPO’s report said. Fossil fuel lobbyists got more passes to COP28 than representatives of the 10 most climate-vulnerable nations of the world combined, which got 1,509, the report said.
According to Environmental Defence Canada, the total number of badge holders from Canada went up from eight last year to 35 this year.
The group said the fossil fuel lobbyists in Canada’s delegation also included those invited by the Alberta government. Environmental Defence Canada said many of these delegates are directly employed by Canadian oil and gas companies.
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The group says 18 employees of oil and gas companies got Canadian delegation passes, along with six people “from groups affiliated with the oil and gas industry,” 11 people “from companies selling false solutions, such as carbon capture and fossil hydrogen,” and “other oil and gas lobbyists.”
“For the first time, the key issue at these climate talks is agreeing upon an approach to phase out the production of fossil fuels. So it is not surprising that fossil fuel executives are swarming COP28 in an effort to sabotage progress and peddle their dangerous distractions, like carbon capture and hydrogen,” said Julia Levin, associate director at Environment Defence Canada.
Speaking to Global News from Dubai, where she is attending the COP28 summit, Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May said, “It’s unhelpful to have fossil fuel lobbyists in the room.”
“I think it speaks to the fact that the fossil fuel lobby has had a huge role in what governments decide,” she added. “So where there’s fossil fuel lobbyists, at a COP, in the room, there’s no question that the clout — the economic clout, the political clout — of the fossil fuel lobby has constrained action to save our civilization from increasing climate crisis events.”
What is the goal at COP28?
Climate negotiators on Tuesday zeroed in on the tough job of dealing with fossil fuels.
As scientists, activists and United Nations officials repeatedly detailed how the world needs to phase out the use of coal, oil and natural gas, the conference opened “energy transition day” with a session headlined by top officials of two oil companies.
Negotiators produced a new draft of what’s expected to be the core document of the UN talks, something called the Global Stocktake, but it had so many possibilities in its 24 pages that it didn’t give too much of a hint of what will be agreed upon when the session ends next week.
Whatever is adopted has to be agreed on by consensus so it has to be near unanimous.
“It’s pretty comprehensive,” COP28 CEO Adnan Amin told The Associated Press Tuesday. “I think it provides a very good basis for moving forward. And what we’re particularly pleased about it is that it’s this early in the process.”
That will give time for a lot of give and take, Amin said, particularly over the area of the future of fossil fuels, “where there’s going to be a very intensive engagement process.”
Climate scientist Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, said the central issue of the meeting “is to reach a conclusion about the phasing out of fossil fuels.”
“And unless we do that, I doubt whether we’re going to see an improvement in temperature,” Hare said.
The options in the draft on the future of fossil fuels range from a less-stringent “phasedown of unabated coal power” to a simple but dramatic “orderly and just phase out of fossil fuels.”
Amin said since September there’s been quite a bit of “momentum and clarity” for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Two-and-a-half months ago he thought the requirement for all countries to agree would likely doom “phase-out” language.
But that could still change. Amin said because some countries, particularly poorer ones, may see phase-out as too restrictive, negotiators could even hit their thesauruses for alternatives to the much discussed phase-out or phase-down wording.
Scientists who track climate action said it’s crucial to watch the language for loopholes.
“We need to phase out of fossil fuels completely without a back door,” said the New Climate Institute’s Niklas Hohne. “At this conference, there’s actually many back doors being proposed at the briefing table … mainly for prolonging the life of fossil fuels, and one is to talk about ‘unabated’ fossil fuels.”
Including “unabated” means allowing the burning of fossil fuels if their emissions can be captured and stored, a technology that’s much talked about but really hasn’t proven to work well, Hohne and other scientists have said.
— with files from The Associated Press