Pressure mounts to halt corporate capture of COP28 and remove polluters, not just oil exec, from UN climate talks
26 January, 2023—There has been widespread condemnation since news broke earlier this month that Sultan Al Jaber, an oil executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), would be overseeing this year’s UN climate talks happening in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this November. But today, four United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) constituencies and 425 organizations representing millions of people from across the globe are calling not only for a COP28 president that is free and independent of fossil fuel influence, but for an end to the undue influence that allowed his appointment in the first place.
In a letter to the parties of the UNFCCC, Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the body, and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres—who has not minced words about the fossil fuel industry’s deceit and its catastrophic expansion plans—the constituencies and groups detail ADNOC’s outsized role in fueling the climate crisis, as well as the negligence of world governments in allowing polluters to steer the agenda of global talks.
“Polluters have a role to play: stop polluting. They cannot be placed on a leadership pedestal and certainly not in a position to undermine and weaken policy. That is basically nonsense. The UNFCCC is not only reluctant to accept a straightforward conflict of interest policy, but it is undermining its already weak international trust year after year,” said Gadir Lavadenz of the global campaign to Demand Climate Justice, a member of the global Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) network behind today’s letter.
The 450+ organization network is calling for the UNFCCC to adopt an Accountability Framework that prevents the world’s largest polluters from steering global climate policymaking.
Absent controls on industry interference, legions of lobbyists converge on annual climate talks each year. They even attend as members of country delegations, such as was the case with the UAE’s 1000-person delegation, which featured more fossil fuel lobbyists than any other country delegation.
What’s more, corporations like the world’s largest plastics polluter, Coca-Cola, were allowed to literally sponsor last year’s climate talks. 18 out of 20 COP27 sponsors either directly partner with or are otherwise linked to the fossil fuel industry. And at COP27, a PR firm with long ties to the fossil fuel and other pariah industries was retained to manage communications.
“The list of political interference and cooptation of the UNFCCC goes on and on. They make a mockery of the space and the critical work it needs to accomplish. The appointment of an oil executive is the tipping point and must now be the impetus at long last to retrieve the UNFCCC from a long descent into Big Polluters pockets,” said Coraina de la Plaza of Global Forest Coalition, another KBPO member organization.
Making Al Jaber’s appointment particularly insidious is that he helms a corporation that is among the top 15 corporations most responsible for carbon emissions. ADNOC’s expansion plans are second only to Qatar Energy globally. And these plans, not surprisingly, are entirely incompatible with International Energy Agency scenarios, among others, to avert even more catastrophic harms from climate change. ADNOC is even pledging to produce more than 5 million barrels of oil a day.
Further affirming the KBPO network’s call for enduring safeguards against polluting interests, world leaders like the United States government’s special envoy John Kerry and the EU’s Frans Timmermans have actually lauded Al Jaber’s appointment, with Kerry coining it a “terrific choice.” Kerry has argued the fact that he has also done some business in renewables somehow makes him a “balanced” pick, not a puppet of polluters.
“Amid escalating climate chaos, the UNFCCC has been increasingly captured by corporate power—especially fossil fuel interests—while rolling back civil society access…The power balance at COP, a multilateral, democratic space, has gradually tilted away from rightsholder sovereignty to corporate dominated multi-stakeholder platforms. We will not cede this space to those whose interest is profit over people and planet. This is a climate crisis and we simply cannot afford to lose ground,” said Getrude Kenyangi, a Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) Facilitative Committee member.
The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), had the foresight to address industry interference from the outset to strong effect. Other UN bodies such as the nascent pandemic and plastics treaty negotiating bodies are also facing similar calls to govern the engagement of vested commercial interests. And a binding treaty on business and human rights is nearing a decade of negotiation to deliver some modicum of accountability globally for corporations like those engaging most actively in the UNFCCC and other UN fora.
Signatories of the letter, as with peers in these aligned spaces, see corporate accountability mechanisms as fundamental to the success of the UNFCCC, not to mention climate action more broadly. As a starting point, organizations are demanding a COP28 president free of fossil fuel influence and for the interests of all COP28 participants to be proactively declared.
Additional quotes from UNFCCC constituencies and KBBPO members:
“COP Presidencies must be free and independent of fossil fuel influence. It’s time for the UNFCCC to deliver the long overdue, equitable phaseout of fossil fuels and do it with a Just Transition focused on workers’ rights, social dialogue, and social protection. We must stop now all fossil fuel companies that weaken and undermine the global response to climate change.” Bert De Wel, ITUC policy advisor and TUNGO constituency focal point
“The appointment of a CEO of a fossil fuel company as the COP President, and the real conflict of interest this poses should not be downplayed. The UN climate body is in serious jeopardy of having its credibility undermined and its ability to deliver the real and ambitions actions required to address the climate emergency. For years, civil society groups have asked the UNFCCC to implement a conflict of interest policy and an accountability framework to stop big polluters and fossil fuel vested interests from hijacking the climate talks. It is no surprise that decisions to take actions against the main culprits of climate change was never on the agenda of the COP’s up until recently. And now we are at this outrageous point where the fossil fuel industry has one of its captains at the helm. There is no place for polluters at a UN climate conference, least of all in presiding over one. We have called on COP28 President Al Jaber to step down as CEO of ADNOC and also strongly call on the UNFCCC to put in place a robust conflict of interest policy now.” Tasneem Essop, Executive Director: CAN International
“The fossil industry is desperate to carry on with business-as-usual despite the worsening climate crisis and their role in it. It’s the same industry pushing carbon markets and other false solutions instead of committing to real and deep emission cuts. And it’s that very same industry infiltrating and influencing the climate negotiations. For COP28 to have any chance of delivering on climate action, we cannot allow for this blatant conflict of interest.” Lise Masson, Friends of the Earth International
“While climate policy and climate agreements are complicated, what’s not is 86% of the pollution trapped in our atmosphere and smothering the earth, causing the dramatic increase in fires, floods and drought, comes from three things: oil, gas and coal. There is significant evidence that major fossil fuel companies have buried scientific evidence, funded denial and delayed climate action. These companies and their executives are not going to design their own demise. The rules to regulate them to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and fast track investment in solutions must be made without the fossil fuel industry at the table so that we act quickly and save as many lives as possible. This fiasco is also pointing out the importance of new bold ideas to ensure international collaboration to stop fossil fuel expansion like the Fossil Fuel Treaty.” Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director Stand.earth
“The appointment of an oil executive at the helm of COP28 is a huge setback and sets an ominous sign for the upcoming climate negotiations in Dubai. Sultan Al Jaber’s presidency swings the door open for big polluters to further influence the climate negotiations and foist the same polluting, business-as-usual approaches that harm lives, livelihoods, and communities. If we have any hope of addressing the climate crisis, COP28 should give a platform to frontline communities and their demands for climate justice, not the big polluters like Al Jaber and their false solutions.” Jax Bongon, Policy Officer, IBON International
“Letting petrostates host the UN climate talks is bad enough, but appointing a petrol company executive as President of COP28 is an effrontery several orders of magnitude beyond anything that happened before in the history of the UN climate process. Attempts to sugar coat this scandalous decision only serve to undermine the huge efforts of everyone working to limit global heating. This brazen attempt of the dying fossil fuel industry to predetermine the outcome of COP28 will not stand.” Cansın Leylim Ilgaz, Associate Director Global Campaigns, 350.org
‘This case shows again we collectively need to decide what is acceptable and what is not. And we urgently need a conflict of interest policy for the UNFCCC. Corruption and undue influence are eroding public confidence and preventing some key stakeholders to have their voices heard. The stakes of climate policy making are too high for being captured by some vested interests.’ Brice Böhmer, Climate & Environment Lead, Transparency International
“The appointment of Sultan Al Jaber as President-Designate is more than a conflict of interest — it reflects the UNFCCC’s complete abdication of responsibility to real and effective climate action. As the unprecedented number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27 made clear, UN climate conferences are increasingly serving the interests of big corporations, particularly oil and gas companies. In doing so, they offer a platform for greenwashing initiatives and dangerous false solutions rather than advancing the phaseout of fossil fuels urgently required to avoid a catastrophic escalation of the climate crisis. This appointment is even more alarming as the UAE government aggressively curtails the rights and freedoms of civil society, preventing the expression of dissent. For the credibility and integrity of the climate negotiations, it’s imperative that Sultan Al Jaber resigns from his roles as CEO of ADNOC and Masdar or decline the COP presidency and that the UN adopt policies to prevent further conflicts of interests in relation to the climate negotiations.” Sébastien Duyck, Campaign Manager Human Rights & Climate Change, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
“The announcement of an oil executive as the president designate of COP28 reinforces the long standing conviction of the global climate justice community that the climate talks have been hijacked by the same fossil fuels industry that is responsible for the climate crisis and the suffering of frontline communities. The credibility of the UNFCCC processes to deliver on climate ambitions is mow further eroded. The negotiations in UAE may be between the fossil fuel industry and the fossil fuel industry. Frontline communities and other critical voices will be shut out.” Philip Jakpor, Director of Programmes at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa