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A fox in the henhouse: Hundreds of oil and gas lobbyists are at the UN climate talks

Protesters demanding an end to government subsidies for fossil fuel companies demonstrate during the UNFCCC COP27 climate conference on November 11, 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.Sean Gallup/Getty

Ongoing United Nations climate negotiations in Egypt have convened more than 30,000 people. That includes world leaders, scientists, activists — and at least 636 representatives from the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released by international NGO Global Witness on Thursday.

Nearly one-third of those representatives are registered as members of national delegations, meaning they can access official negotiation rooms and other parts of the conference that civil society groups cannot. The rest can hobnob with world leaders in hallways and at side events, and attempt to exert influence on international climate policy with their presence.

The number of fossil fuel company representatives registered at the conference is twice the number in the official delegation for Indigenous peoples, a group disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. And if they were a bloc, oil, gas, and coal representatives would outnumber those representing any African country, even though the United Nations has deemed this year’s summit the “Africa COP” because of the need to focus on the climate consequences for that continent.

Global Witness worked with two other watchdog nonprofits, Corporate Europe Observatory and Boston-based Corporate Accountability, to comb through the U.N.’s list of named attendees. The authors counted 636 on the list who work for fossil fuel corporations — including major ones like Shell, Chevron, BP, and Enel.


About 200 of those representatives came as members of a national delegation; the United Arab Emirates alone was responsible for bringing 70 of them, while Russia brought 33. The United States, for its part, brought none. The remaining 436 representatives are attending the talks as representatives of industry trade groups or other non-governmental organizations.

“The likes of BP, Shell and Exxon are using these talks to hijack a debate where the only sensible conclusion is to end the extraction of fossil fuels - the very antithesis of their business model,” said Pascoe Sabido, campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory. “636 fossil fuels lobbyists didn’t turn up just for the photo shoots. We know they are in the side rooms, in the talks, around the venue trying to influence policy to hold back the massive climate ambition we need.”


At last year’s summit in Glasgow, known as COP26, officials made a show of banning official sponsorship or involvement from fossil fuel firms. Despite this, 503 delegates with ties to the industry showed up, Global Witness, Corporate Europe Observatory, and Corporate Accountability found last year.

The fact that oil- and gas-tied delegates are at this years negotiations shows “a rise in the influence of the fossil fuel industry at the climate talks,” the report says.

“It’s time to kick big polluters out,” said Phillip Jakpor, director of programs at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, a chapter of Corporate Accountability, said.

Some have argued that giving fossil fuel companies a seat at the table could encourage them to get on board with the energy transition. But critics say their participation is hindering climate progress.

The Glasgow agreement, signed at last year’s COP26, included watered-down provisions allowing for the continued expansion of fossil fuels — language that climate advocates said bore the fingerprints of the oil and gas sector. And back in 2018, Shell Oil executives reportedly said they helped write a section of the Paris Climate Accord that has been harshly criticized by many advocates.


“You can see the fossil fuel industry exercising enormous influence throughout these negotiations,” said Carroll Muffett, CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, who didn’t work on the report.

The report comes amid mounting pressure on the United Nations to remove fossil fuel industry influence from climate talks. There’s precedent for such a move: the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control barred anyone with ties to the tobacco industry from negotiations.

Ahead of COP27, more than 450 organizations formed the Kick Big Polluters Out campaign, demanding UN organizers bar fossil fuel executives and lobbyists from all future climate summits.

On Thursday, the coalition staged a protest at the negotiations. There, they also called for U.N. officials to define clear conflict of interest policies — a request they say has the backing of governments that collectively represent almost 70 percent of the world’s population.

Activists have also roundly criticized COP27 organizers for accepting corporate sponsorship from Coca Cola because the company is a leading contributor to the manufacture of plastic, which is made from fossil fuels. An online petition calling to remove Coke as a sponsor garnered more than 228,000 signatures.

Dharna Noor can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.