Over 500 fossil fuel lobbyists attend COP26 despite feeling 'unwelcome'

The fossil fuel lobby has more representatives at COP26 than the combined total of eight delegations from countries affected the worst by climate change over the last 20 years.

 Rubbish is seen on the street during a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 6, 2021.  (photo credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)
Rubbish is seen on the street during a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 6, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)

Over 500 fossil fuel lobbyists attended COP26 over the last two weeks, making them the largest delegation in attendance, an analysis released by human rights organization Global Witness has found.

According to data provided by the UN's provisional list of named attendees and gathered by Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Glasgow Calls Out Polluters and Global Witness, at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists, affiliated with some of the world's most harmful oil and gas giants, have attended the conference in Glasgow, putting immense corporate pressure and influence on politicians and diplomats.

The lobbyists have been found to be either directly or indirectly associated with over 100 different fossil fuel companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, Russia-owned Gazprom and Britain's BP oil and gas company.

The Global Witness report found that the fossil fuel lobby has more representatives at COP26 than the combined total of eight delegations from countries worst affected by climate change over the last 20 years -  Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Mozambique, Bahamas, Bangladesh and Pakistan. 

It is not just fuel companies choosing to send representatives to the conference, however. Fossil fuel lobbyists were part of the official delegations of 27 countries, including those from Canada, Russia and Brazil. 

 Demonstrators hold signs as they participate in a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in London, Britain, November 6, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS) Demonstrators hold signs as they participate in a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in London, Britain, November 6, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)

Australia faced criticism at the start of the conference after its government hosted a demonstration by oil and gas giant Santos at the front of their pavilion, effectively placing them in the spotlight. This came shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to join 90 other countries in backing the official launch of a global pledge to reduce emissions of methane by 30% by 2030.

“Look at the Australian stand – you’ve got a gas company highlighted apparently at the insistence of the energy minister, who thinks that our energy policy should be all about burning gas,” former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told the Guardian in criticism of Morrison and the country's delegation. 

“We’ve got to cut all greenhouse gas emissions – methane and CO2, particularly. We can’t keep on pretending that this is a problem we can push out on to the future. We are living with the reality of global warming now.”

The fossil fuel industry is overwhelmingly responsible for harming the environment, as the burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, heating up the atmosphere and raising global temperatures. 

The lobbyists have attended COP26 despite comments ahead of the conference suggesting that they would be doing otherwise. According to the Washington Post, Shell announced that it would not be attending, with the company's chief executive Ben van Beurden saying he was "told that we were not welcome, so we will not be there.” Despite this, they still had six people in attendance, although they did not send any executive-level representatives.

THE NEWS of hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists attending COP26, while many groups from poorer countries feeling the harshest effects of climate change have been barred from access due to things like travel restrictions and lack of access to vaccines, has drawn criticism from many, including British Member of Parliament Nadia Whittome, who asked if people "would let arms dealers run peace talks," in a video shared on social media.

"I don't know about you, but I sure am not comfortable with having some of the world's biggest villains influencing & dictating the fate of the world," tweeted Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish environmental activist. During her time at COP26, Thunberg both met with world leaders inside the conference and marched with climate activists on the outside.

“The presence of hundreds of those being paid to push the toxic interests of polluting fossil fuel companies will only increase the skepticism of climate activists who see these talks as more evidence of global leaders’ dithering and delaying," Murray Worthy, the Gas Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said in response to the reported data.

"The scale of the challenge ahead means there is no time for us to be diverted by greenwashing or meaningless corporate promises not matched by delivery. It’s time for politicians to show they are serious about ending the influence of big polluters over political decision-making and commit to a future where expert and activist voices are given center stage.”

“COP26 is being sold as the place to raise ambition, but it’s crawling with fossil fuel lobbyists whose only ambition is to stay in business. The likes of Shell and BP are inside these talks despite openly admitting to upping their production of fossil gas," added Pascoe Sabido, a researcher and campaigner for Corporate Europe Observatory.

"If we’re serious about raising ambition, then fossil fuel lobbyists should be shut out of the talks – and out of our national capitals."