The world’s biggest climate conference – the COP summit, seen as a means of holding major powers to their climate pledges, is becoming increasingly controversial as we’re seeing greater participation from oil and gas lobbyists as environmentalists have mounting fears of yet another case of greenwashing. With plans to hold the 2023 COP28 summit in the oil-rich UAE next year, many environmentalists are questioning the efficacy of the event in the combat of climate change. In addition, the large presence of fossil fuel company representatives this year has called into question its legitimacy. This year, at the UN’s COP27 summit, held in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, there were media reports throughout the event focused on the more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists attending the summit. This marked a rise of around 25 percent of fossil fuel representatives, from 503 lobbyists at COP26. The climate group Kick Big Polluters out noted, “the influence of fossil fuel lobbyists is greater than frontline countries and communities. Delegations from African countries and Indigenous communities are dwarfed by representatives of corporate interests.”
While oil and gas groups are expected to play a major role in the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives, as they expand their portfolios to invest in renewables, having too many lobbyists in attendance can take away from the efforts of environmentalists to promote climate change action at the conference. The larger the number of representatives attending, the more fruitful their efforts may be to curb progress and encourage actions that support their own interests.
The focus of the summit is to encourage countries around the world to stick to their climate pledges and policy action to keep global temperature rises within the 1.5oC of warming, to prevent catastrophic climate change. However, the body that oversees the COP summits, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), stated “Climate action will continue to fail to meaningfully address the climate crisis as long as polluting interests are granted unmitigated access to policymaking processes and are allowed to unduly influence and weaken the critical work of the UNFCCC”.
And now there are further worries about the efficacy of future COP summits with next year’s event scheduled to take place in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE had 1,070 registered delegates at COP27, many of whom have vested interests in the oil and gas industry. While the UAE is driving forward efforts to develop its renewable energy industry, and supporting the U.S. in global green energy projects, its economy continues to be largely driven by oil and gas revenues.
The UAE is one of the world’s largest oil exporters, producing an average of 3.4 million bpd of crude. Oil and gas exports currently account for around 13 percent of the country’s exports and approximately 30 percent of the UAE’s GDP. While the UAE is showing increasing interest in developing its renewable energy capacity, the government has demonstrated that it has no intention of curbing its oil and gas output in the coming years. In fact, the state-owned energy firm Adnoc hopes to increase its crude production to 5 million bpd by 2025.
And some delegates were clearly unhappy about the decision to make the UAE host, with Alok Sharma, the U.K. president of the Glasgow COP26 summit, saying in visible anger: “Those of us who came to Egypt to keep 1.5C alive, and to respect what every single one of us agreed to in Glasgow, have had to fight relentlessly to hold the line.” With the UAE as the summit’s negotiator, experts believe there will inevitably be conflicts of interest during the event.
And many are doubtful of the UAE’s commitment to transparent and impartial climate talks due to its action at this year’s COP summit. The country hired PR and lobbying agencies to demonstrate its potential as a future conference host, even before COP27 began. This is the first such promotional effort, highlighting the UAE’s political influence in Egypt.
Although some delegates are more optimistic about the UAE’s leadership in the next summit. Egypt was criticised heavily for allowing COP27 to become “untransparent, unpredictable and chaotic”. In contrast, the UAE has shown strong organisational skills in recent events, such as Expo 2020 in Dubai. It also has a proven track record in the international energy industry, with strong trade relations with several major global powers. Further, the country is committed to economic diversification through the development of a variety of renewable energy operations including the world’s largest single-site solar farm, small and large nuclear plants, and the expansion of its pumped hydro energy capacity.
Although the annual COP summits are viewed as a means of holding world powers to their climate pledges and ensuring global warming is limited in the coming decades, to avoid catastrophic climate events, with increasing influence coming from the oil and gas industry many are questioning whether its aims will hold up in future conferences. The involvement of major fossil fuel powers in the COP27 and COP28 conferences is leading environmentalists to question whether this is just another case of greenwashing at the international scale, or whether the aims of the conference will be upheld by its delegates.