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Today Global Witness, together with Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory and Glasgow Calls Out Polluters published an analysis of the UN’s provisional list of attendees at the crucial COP26 climate talks.

Taking a data-led approach, we were able to sift through the whole 1,600-page document listing everyone admitted to the talks, using a mixture of automation and manual analysis to spot delegates who declared an affiliation with a fossil fuel company and the business groups that lobby for the fossil fuel industry.

The analysis showed that at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists were admitted to the climate talks, 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.

To put that number in context, it means that there were twice as many fossil fuel lobbyists at the climate negotiations as people in the official UN constituency for Indigenous people.

Fossil fuel lobbyists as a block outnumber the biggest country delegation and outnumber the combined total of the eight delegations from the countries worst affected by climate change over the last two decades.

We know that this year’s COP was likely to be one of the most unequal ever, with massive barriers to participation, vaccine inequality and costly travel restrictions keeping many people away. For example, several Pacific small island states and territories warned that they were unlikely to be able to send any government officials to the talks. The scale of the fossil lobby at COP puts that unequal access into sharp contrast.

We have not included the outright climate deniers attending the conference or the many lobbyists for other industries closely tied to fossil fuels or heavily implicated in the climate crisis like the finance industry, big agribusinesses or petrochemicals industry.

We spotted delegates from over 100 fossil fuel companies who openly stated their affiliation, attending the talks as part of country delegations or with business groups. For example, one in eight delegates from Russia’s three hundred strong delegation were from the fossil fuel industry while lobbyists were also included in Canada’s and Brazil’s official delegations. In total 27 different official country delegations included fossil fuel lobbyists.

Fossil fuel companies are deeply embedded into some business groups and trade associations that lobby at COP. Shell’s chief climate advisor David Hone, for example, is once again attending the climate negotiations as part of the hundred-strong delegation from the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Hone sits on the board of IETA and in 2018 boasted that he, together with IETA, had a hand in inserting measures into the Paris Agreement that allow fossil fuel companies to purchase credits for emissions reductions elsewhere instead of reducing their own emissions.

Shell’s CEO Ben Van Beurden said last week that he felt Shell was “not welcome” at COP, saying “We were told that we were not welcome, so we will not be there”. Hone’s presence, as well as five other delegates who are attending from Shell shows that while the company might be trying to keep a low profile, they are not bailing on climate negotiations yet. 

The fossil fuel industry spent decades misleading the public about climate change and stoking denial. Today, while most oil and gas companies do acknowledge the threat of climate change they continue to delay action on their own emissions, push questionable techno-fixes that would allow them to continue business as usual or greenwash their own actions by focussing on green or environmental efforts by the companies while still devoting the vast majority of their business to polluting fossil fuels.

Just a few days ago executives, from Shell, BP, Chevron and Exxon were put on the spot in the US Congress. These top executives were asked whether they would pledge to stop lobbying against efforts to reduce emissions? All of them refused to make that promise.

The fossil fuel industry has a fundamental conflict of interest, as long as their business model still depends on selling polluting products then proper action on the climate crisis is a threat to their profits. Fossil fuel lobbyists simply should not have a place in climate negotiations. Much like tobacco lobbyists were excluded from public health talks we need to kick these polluters out of climate policy. 

Together with our partners we believe these findings show why we need a conflict of interest policy for UN climate negotiations that clearly excludes organisations that have financial or vested interests requiring them to emit large quantities of greenhouse gases in order to continue to maximize profit.

Ultimately, if we want to put the needs of people and the planet over polluters’ profits, we need a fossil free politics.