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COP26 is ‘crawling with fossil fuel lobbyists,’ and they’re watering down negotiations, climate hawks warn

November 12, 2021, 3:57 PM UTC

The single biggest delegation at the climate COP26 conference in Glasgow comes from the kingdom of Black Gold—the petroleum industry.

Amid the throngs of politicians, NGOs, clean-energy business leaders, and climate activists were at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists representing the interests of some of the world’s biggest oil and gas giants. According to climate- and civil-society activists Global Witness, Corporate Europe Observatory, and Glasgow Calls Out Polluters, the oil and gas industry is the largest attendee at the summit, sending two dozen more people than the largest nation delegation.

With such a massive presence, the industry’s influence could be seen throughout the event. For example, the updated text of negotiations released today contained some softened language of the fossil fuel subsidy phaseout. That prompted Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan to remark, “The fingerprints of fossil fuel interests are still on the text.”

While lobbyists are free to mix and mingle with politicians and decision makers, some at the conference find their presence disheartening. Human rights activist and global ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity Kumi Naidoo grumbled, “This process has been corrupted to its core.”

He added, “This is as absurd as Alcoholics Anonymous having a global conference, and the largest delegation is the alcohol industry.”

“Being a part of the solution”

Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics, and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest U.S. oil and gas trade association, called such criticisms unfair. “The oil and gas industry is committed to being part of the solution to addressing climate,” Macchiarola said.

He told Fortune that API had sent two delegates to the COP26 climate conference. Both attended as “observers”—such attendees do not have voting rights—and their mission was straightforward: to promote clean-energy innovations such as carbon capture storage (CCS) and hydrogen, both of which require the continued use of oil and gas.  

Macchiarola added that oil and gas play a meaningful part in a diverse energy portfolio and that fossil fuels will continue to be burned in the decades to come—“to 2050 and beyond,” an analysis that underscores the International Energy Association’s own forecasts.

As COP26 winds to a close, one big sticking point in negotiations is that of a $100 billion financing plan to mostly aid the least developed countries with their energy transition plans. The oil and gas firms have their own solution: to be a big energy supplier to developing countries—but doing it with fossil fuels.

“We are looking to advance clean technologies to work toward a low carbon future,” Macchiarola said more than once in a conversation with Fortune.

Distorting negotiations

“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,” said Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner for Corporate Europe Observatory, an anti–lobbying campaign nonprofit. “Those trying to burn down the table should not have a seat at it.”

The number of lobbyists affiliated with companies like Shell, Exxon Mobil, and BP outnumber by a margin of two-to-one the official UN delegation for indigenous groups, and those from Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Mozambique, Bahamas, Bangladesh, and Pakistan—the eight countries worst affected by climate change in the past two decades.

The large number of oil and gas representatives even caught the attention of some of the summit’s biggest speakers.

“It is true, a lot of climate opposition comes from fossil fuel companies trying to make a buck,” former U.S. President Barack Obama noted at the event, “despite the green ads they run on TV.”

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