So what if fossil fuel lobbyists have to declare themselves at Cop28? That won’t curb their power

So what if fossil fuel lobbyists have to declare themselves at Cop28? That won’t curb their power

Earlier this month, the UN announced it will require fossil fuel lobbyists to identify themselves as such when registering for the Cop28 climate summit. The move was applauded by campaigners and politicians alike, but it’s a shockingly small first step towards matching the boldness demanded by UN secretary general, António Guterres, when it comes to rooting out fossil fuel influence. In a speech earlier this month, Guterres called for the phase out of fossil fuels themselves, and said oil majors must “cease and desist influence peddling and legal threats designed to knee-cap progress.”

The UN’s move to transparently label lobbyists at Cop28 looks a lot like damage control after recent embarrassing revelations, such as there having been more oil lobbyists than any one nation’s delegation at Cop26 in Glasgow. But to actually rid Cop of fossil fuel influence, the UN has to go far beyond finally unmasking industry lobbyists; it needs to hold up a mirror to its own enabling behaviour over the years, then reverse all of it.

Exposing just a single node – in this case, the lobbyists – in the complex ecosystem of climate misinformation is not enough to defuse its impact, and in fact might only add to the fairytale that industry representatives are attending the summit in good faith.

First, the UN should acknowledge that fossil fuel executives and lobbyists have been deeply embedded in its climate diplomacy since the 1992 Rio Earth summit, which birthed the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC). Attending that summit alongside global leaders and youth climate activists were multiple members of the Global Climate Coalition – a group created by PR mastermind E Bruce Harrison and made up of corporate members from any polluting industry that felt threatened by the idea of a binding emissions reduction target.

In the lead-up to the summit, and at various events during it, Harrison and his clients pushed the idea that industry was already tackling the problem of “the greenhouse effect” via voluntary measures, so there was simply no need for onerous regulatory mechanisms. That idea was baked into the UNFCCC and has remained there, rarely challenged, for decades.

Since then, fossil fuel involvement in the annual Conference of the Parties, or Cop, has only grown, and the world has moved further and further away from an agreement that would actually halt warming at safe levels. The Cop28 president, Sultan Al Jaber, was the founding president of the renewable energy company Masdar and is still that company’s chair, while also being managing director of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). And once again, the PR industry is hard at work branding fossil fuel-connected interests as linchpins to climate progress.

Much of the news out of Abu Dhabi these days is centred on Masdar: solar projects, sustainable aviationbig plans for renewables, and a doubling of its commitment to install 100GW of renewable energy by 2030. But far more quietly, Adnoc has announced its goal of doubling oil and gas production to hit 5m barrels a day by 2027; as of 2020, the United Arab Emirates was already responsible for 14% of global oil and gas production, and now it has a plan to double its production.

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Photo:, Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

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