‘Beyond justification’: Record number of fossil fuel lobbyists attend COP28 climate talks in Dubai

A man wearing a thawb walks past flags of nations participating in the UNFCCC COP28 Climate Conference the day before its official opening on November 29, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Nearly 2,500 fossil fuel lobbyists are estimated to have been granted access to the COP28 climate conference in the United Arab Emirates, according to an analysis from advocacy groups, reflecting a sharp increase from last year.

A report published Tuesday by the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition found that at least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists registered to attend the two-week long summit. That’s more than almost every other country delegation, except for Brazil (3,081) and COP28 host the United Arab Emirates (4,409), the analysis said.

The findings come at the mid-way point of COP28 and as a fight over the future of fossil fuels takes center stage.

Campaigners say the number of fossil fuel lobbyists attending the talks is “beyond justification” and signals that polluting industries are seeking to advance a fossil fuel agenda at the expense of frontline communities.

Others, however, including former U.S. energy secretary Ernest Moniz, said that Big Oil’s participation at COP28 should be welcomed.

The International Energy Agency said in the run-up to the talks that the oil and gas industry faces a “moment of truth” about their role in the global energy system and the deepening climate crisis.

A COP28 spokesperson was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC.

“2023 was a year like no other. Record temperatures, record levels of emissions, and now we see a record attendance from Big Polluters at UN climate talks,” said Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan, head of building movement power at Climate Action Network International, a global network of civil society organizations.

“The window to preserve a liveable planet is rapidly closing. At the same time, ever greater numbers of Big Polluters are allowed to roam around this summit, which communities on the frontlines cannot afford to have fail again,” they added.

Phase out vs. phase down

The surge in the number of fossil fuel lobbyists attending the U.N. climate talks follows a growing call from public officials, U.N. constituencies and civil society groups to eject polluters from the talks.

For many at the U.N. talks, which are being held in Dubai through Dec. 12, COP28 can only be recognized as a success if it results in a deal to phase out all fossil fuels, the burning of which is the chief driver of the climate crisis

Not everyone is on board with calls for a phase-out. Russia has said it would oppose this language being used in the final agreement, while COP28 host the United Arab Emirates has signaled its preference for a phase-down.

COP28: Former U.S. energy secretary says he welcomes the participation of oil and gas companies

The language of the final agreement will be closely monitored. A “phase out” commitment would likely require a shift away from fossil fuels until their use is eliminated, while a “phase down” could indicate a reduction in their use — but not an absolute end.

There’s also a debate about whether an agreement should center on “abated” fossil fuels, which are trapped and stocked with carbon capture and storage technologies. “Unabated” fossil fuels are largely understood to be produced and used without substantial reductions in the amount of emitted greenhouse gases.

In an unprecedented start to proceedings on Thursday, delegates at COP28 sealed the details of a landmark deal to help the world’s most vulnerable countries pay for the impacts of climate disasters.

A flurry of COP28 announcements have since sought to help decarbonize the energy sector, with nearly 120 governments on Saturday pledging to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Source: CNBC