COP27 is flooded by hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists

There are twice as many fossil lobbyists as indigenous peoples' delegates
About 2% of COP27 attendees are fossil fuel lobbyists.
About 2% of COP27 attendees are fossil fuel lobbyists.
Photo: THAIER AL-SUDANI (Reuters)
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There are 33,449 registered attendees as the COP27 climate summit in Egypt right now, making it the second-biggest Conference of the Parties on record after last year’s in Glasgow. Of these, 636 are lobbyists for fossil fuel companies or fossil-reliant energy companies, according to a Nov. 10 analysis by the advocacy group Global Witness.

That’s 25% more fossil fuel lobbyists than in Glasgow, the analysis found, and twice as many people than are registered this year as members of the official UN delegation for indigenous peoples. If they were a a bloc of delegates, fossil fuel lobbyists would be larger than any nation’s group at COP27, apart from the 1,000-person strong delegation from the United Arab Emirates, host of next year’s COP28.

Fossil fuel companies expected a warm welcome in Egypt

A third of these lobbyists are registered as members of their country’s delegation, a status that gives them full access to negotiation rooms, the buildings that house offices for other countries’ delegations, and other parts of the conference that are off-limits to civil society groups and the media. The most lobbyist-heavy delegation is Russia’s, in which one in five members are lobbyists for Gazprom and other Russian energy interests, Global Witness found.

These lobbyists have less to lobby about than they have in past summits, given that many key elements of the Paris Agreement and related climate deals are already locked up. And fossil fuel interests are much less visible now than they were in COPs of yore, when major oil and gas companies set up flashy pavilions and the CEO of Shell boasted of his influence on the text of the Paris Agreement.

But there are still plenty of opportunities for lobbyists to whisper in influential ears about the role fossil fuels could play in future energy systems. At an oil and gas industry trade show in Cairo in February, executives from Exxon and other producers lamented that fossil fuel companies were largely excluded from COP26, and expressed their hopes that COP27 would prove more welcoming given that, as John Ardill, Exxon’s VP of exploration said then, “we’re in a gas hub.”

After COP26, the UN climate agency launched a review of how non-government “observers” are accredited and allowed to participate in COPs. The review is still ongoing, and is considering whether and how conflicts of interest should be disclosed. The process needs rules that at a minimum, strike a better balance between corporate and civil society voices, said Brice Böhmer, climate lead at the watchdog group Transparency International.

“These lobbyists have more direct access to negotiators and government officials than civil society groups,” Böhmer said. “If the private sector has access that civil society doesn’t, then we really need to rethink how these COPs are organized.”