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Oil giants push for COP26 involvement in talks with UK government

Documents obtained by the advocacy group, Culture Unstained, have revealed that fossil fuel firms BP, Shell, and Equinor have held at least 13 meetings with UK government officials over the last twelve months in a bid to gain exposure at COP26, the crucial UN Conference on Climate Change set to be held in Glasgow in November 2021.

The collection of documents, obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, which was published last Thursday as the, “The COP Files,” includes meeting notes and email correspondences showing fossil fuel executives brazenly pushing UK officials for a sponsorship deal to secure publicity at the conference, which was postponed until November 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In one email, addressed to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), an Equinor representative said: “If I was to ask you – ballpark – how much money you would like from us, for what, and with what visibility for us, what would you say?”

In another email, sent with the subject line: “BP and COP26,” a representative of the oil giant offered to support the UK government’s “diplomatic efforts” abroad, suggesting that the company could help with “government-to-government facilitation.”  

Earlier this year, an investigation by Unearthed revealed that former energy secretary Andrea Leadsom had informed BP that it would be a “key stakeholder” at the upcoming COP summit. The story also reported that the oil giant had met with officials from the COP unit “to discuss how BP could contribute to the [UK’s COP] presidency.”  

The findings have raised concerns that the continued influence of big oil on international negotiations will undermine meaningful progress on the climate crisis.

Responding to Unearthed’s report, shadow climate change minister Matthew Pennycook had said: “Success at the postponed COP26 UN climate change conference next year is going to require Britain to persuade countries to dramatically raise their ambition on climate action. It is essential that no vested corporate interest exerts undue influence on the process.” 

Sriram Madhusoodanan, a campaigns director with the NGO Corporate Accountability, told Unearthed: “Having BP at the table is inviting the fox inside the hen house and will only mean less progress, less ambition and less justice from the UK government and from the UNFCCC process itself.”

The newly-surfaced documents show that BP has persisted in its correspondence with the government, continuing to push for a seat at the table.

This is not the first time that a government organizing a COP summit has been criticised for its relations with ‘Big Oil’.

Following last year’s summit in Madrid, Spain was criticised for letting its biggest polluters use the garb of sponsorship to “wrap themselves in the green branding of the COP. Whilst In 2018, Poland’s largest coal company, Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW), was made the first official sponsor of the summit, which was held in Katowice, at the heart of the country’s coal region.

The UK had initially raised hopes for the prospect of a fossil-fuel-free COP26 when it published its criteria for corporate sponsors, announcing it would only partner with companies that had “set ambitious net zero commitments by 2050 or earlier, with a credible short-term plan to achieve this.”

Although BP and Shell have both pledged to cut their emissions to net zero by 2050, their plans have been widely criticised for lacking clarity and substance.  

In a recent report, the accountability group Oil Change International analysed the net zero plans proposed by eight of the world’s biggest oil companies, and found that none of them “…come close to aligning their actions with the urgent 1.5°C global warming limit.” 

The report’s authors concluded that most of these plans were dubious because they relied too heavily on the large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies like carbon capture and offset schemes, which leave emissions untouched at their source and rely on the development of technologies which currently remain tentative and unproven.

Jess Worth, co-president of Culture Unstained, the group which exposed The COP Files, told The Guardian: “Now the disturbing extent of Big Oil’s backchannel to the government has been revealed, the COP Unit must walk the walk and rule out sponsorship deals with the fossil fuel industry. If we’re going to meet the Paris climate goals, only urgent cuts in fossil fuel production will cut it – and that won’t happen if those determined to keep drilling are sponsoring the summit.”

Since the documents were made public, a coalition of environmental groups, including Culture Unstained, Corporate Europe Observatory, 350.org, and others, have launched a petition demanding that Alok Sharma, secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy  and President of COP26, keep big polluters out of the UN climate talks. 

The COP Files, along with the full analysis by Culture Unstained, can be found here.