Investigation: Fossil fuel lobbyists attend UN climate talks more than 7000 times as part of decades-long campaign to influence climate action
Findings the tip of the iceberg, bolster case to kick big polluters out on eve of COP28 Dubai talks
BRUSSELS 21 November, 2023: Disclosed delegates tied to the world’s biggest polluting oil and gas firms and their trade groups have attended UN-led climate talks at least 7200 times over the last 20 years, according to a new analysis from the Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition.
Just days ahead of COP28, an event already mired in controversy in part due to the fossil fuel boss at its helm, the analysis shines a light on the concerted and obstructive presence of the fossil fuel lobby at the heart of efforts to avert total climate collapse.
Since COP9 in 2003, disclosed employees of fossil fuel firms have attended negotiations a minimum of 945 times. Disclosed staff from the “Big 5” oil giants – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies—have been granted a minimum of 267 passes.
Representatives from trade associations representing the world’s largest fossil fuel polluters have meanwhile attended COPs at least 6581 times. These groups have used their attendance at COP to lobby to advance fossil fuel interests.
All COP delegates are required to be hosted by an official delegation from a government or admitted organisation, many of which are fossil fuel trade associations. However, many delegates do not declare their “affiliation”, which are the organisations they work for or interests they represent, allowing the presence of fossil fuel firms to pass under the radar. As a result, these figures are likely to represent a significant undercount.
One trade organisation, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), which was founded by big polluters and whose members include polluting behemoths such as Exxon, Chevron, and BP, has been given at least 2769 passes to attend the climate talks since 2003, according to the analysis.
Among the findings of the unprecedented investigation, which complied and analysed information on COP attendees since COP9:
Among the oil and gas employees we were able to identify, Shell has sent the most disclosed staff to talks over the years, with at least 115 passes granted by the UNFCCC. Shell has previously boasted how it influenced the outcome of COP21, the birthplace of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The company reportedly spends millions of dollars annually on lobbying to weaken climate action.
Disclosed representatives of the Italian major Eni, which is being sued for lobbying and greenwashing to push for more fossil fuels despite knowing the risks, have attended COPs at least 104 times, Brazil’s Petrobras at least 68, BP at least 56 and Chevron at least 45 times.
As well as IETA, some of the most represented fossil fuel trade groups at COPs have been the World Business Council for Sustainable Development with at least 979 passes, and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy with at least 558 passes. Japan’s business federation Keidenran, whose members include some of the country’s largest polluters, has sent at least 473 delegates, and BusinessEurope at least 210.
Of the top 20 trade groups by attendance identified in the study, all are headquartered in the Global North. This underscores how organisations from countries that 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.
Some lobbyists have attended COPs representing both fossil fuel companies and trade bodies. In total, the UNFCCC has granted at least 7200 passes to disclosed fossil fuel representatives since 2003.
This KBPO analysis focuses on the world's top producing oil and gas companies and historic polluters, as well as trade bodies that show up repeatedly at climate talks. The varying formats of the UNFCCC’s attendance lists from year to year makes processing names difficult, along with the failure until recently of the UNFCCC to require participants to disclose their affiliations. This means these findings illustrate just the tip of the iceberg of fossil fuel influence, as many representatives will not have been detected as part of this investigation.
Fossil fuel lobbyists also have a track record of attending COPs in delegations that don’t reflect their affiliation. For example, TotalEnergies’ CEO Patrick Pouyanné attended COP27 last year within the delegation of a German NGO. Former BP CEO Bernard Looney also attended COP27 as part of Mauritania’s delegation.
“The UN has no conflict-of-interest rules for COPs,” said George Carew-Jones, from the YOUNGO youth constituency at the UNFCC. “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.
“Young people around the world are losing faith in the COP process - we desperately need strong safeguards on the role that oil and gas firms are playing in these talks,” they said.
"The research makes clear that the body in charge of implementing global policies to reduce GHG emissions is totally captured by the transnational companies that destroy the planet the most,” said Pablo Fajardo, Union of Affected Communities by Texaco/Chevron, Ecuador. “The COP must be freed from polluting companies, or the COP becomes partly responsible for global collapse."
Brenna TwoBears, Keep It In The Ground Lead Coordinator at the Indigenous Environmental Network, said that fossil fuel lobbyists outnumbered the amount of indigenous people who attended COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, by around 200 percent.
“When fossil fuel emissions make up around 90 percent of global carbon emissions, how can they be allowed into the one place meant to address the climate crisis,” said TwoBears.
The presence of lobbyists at COP does not end with the fossil fuel industry. Other polluting industries deeply implicated in the climate crisis, such as finance, agribusiness, and transportation are also present, although they are not included in this analysis.
These new findings build on calls in recent years to protect the integrity of the UN’s climate negotiations by establishing clear conflict of interest policies and broader accountability mechanisms. After many years of campaigning by civil society, the UNFCCC took a first, important step toward doing so last June by mandating disclosure of who participants are representing at COP.
In recent years, government delegates collectively representing almost 70% of the world’s population requested these conflicts of interest be addressed. And more than 130 US and EU legislators joined the call in the lead-up to COP28, calling on their own polluting governments to stop obstructing progress on this issue. Even former UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres, a longtime proponent of including polluting interests in climate talks, recently remarked that if the fossil fuel industry is “going to be there only to be obstructors, and only to put spanners into the system, they should not be there.”
Civil society will be watching closely to determine exactly whether COP28 proves to be fossil fuel friendly or will instead prioritise people and the planet. One indicator of this will be what further steps are taken to protect climate action from the undue influence of the world’s largest polluters, and what additional measures are road mapped to advance broader accountability of the talks.
Additional quotes from KBPO members
Pat Bohland from LIFE e.V./Women and Gender Constituency:
“When you have industry’s emission trading attack dog (IETA) sending more lobbyists since 2003 than scores of Global South countries combined, is it any wonder negotiations have wasted time we don’t have prioritizing dangerous distractions and false solutions like carbon markets?”
Pablo Fajardo, Union of Affected Communities by Texaco/Chevron, Ecuador:
“In the year 2023, the Amazon suffered the worst drought. Rivers, lakes and lagoons dried up for the first time in history, with them thousands of living beings died; The greatest responsibility for this crisis experienced in the Amazon lies with corporations like Chevron and others, which have destroyed the environment. Time is running out.”
Brenna TwoBears, Keep It In The Ground Lead Coordinator at the Indigenous Environmental Network:
“These greedy corporations cannot be allowed into the UNFCCC because fossil fuels tip the world closer and closer to extinction every day. We should be ordering them to shut down and move towards an Indigenous Just Transition. We need to cease all fossil fuel projects both planned and operating. If we want our next seven generations to have a home left, this is the only way forward.
"Otherwise our children, all our children, inherit a burning world. The UN needs to close their doors to the fossil fuel corporations holding the matches and gasoline, so we can save our Mother Earth.”
Figures are based upon an analysis of delegates attending COPs 9 to 27 according to the respective conferences’ final participant lists.
Delegates are classified as fossil fuel lobbyists if they declared themselves either affiliated with, or a member of a delegation that is a fossil fuel organization or foundation, or trade association
Due to capacity constraints, this project has not strived to analyse each individual participant (as we have done with individual COPs), but rather chosen to focus on the presence of the biggest polluters and their trade associations. The research has included the following as fossil fuel organizations: 1) the top 100 producers of oil and gas since 2000, according to production figures from energy data firm Rystad; 2) companies listed by CDP as the largest historical carbon emitters, and 3) company trade organizations that are either substantially controlled by, or largely advocate on behalf of, the fossil fuel industry.
Organizations’ previous names and companies that they have subsequently purchased, as well as names of subsidiaries and the results of acquisitions and mergers, have also been counted.
To avoid duplications, we have ensured that someone who declared themselves with a trade association (e.g. IETA), but also a company (e.g. Chevron), is not double counted. As such, that person is a) included as 1 of the 6581 trade association delegates, b) 1 of the 945 company delegates, and c) only 1 (and not 2) of the 7200 total delegates.
To allow for analysis, delegate, delegation, and affiliation names were adapted from the original PDF participant lists published by COP organizers. Due to the irregular nature of some original lists, it is likely that some delegates representing fossil fuel organizations have not been counted.