Our Burning Planet

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US, EU politicians call for removal of designated COP28 president, tougher rules on fossil fuel lobbyists

US, EU politicians call for removal of designated COP28 president, tougher rules on fossil fuel lobbyists
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, president-designate of the UNFCCC COP28 climate conference and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. (Photo: Christian Marquardt / Pool / Getty Images)

Politicians from the US and the European Union have called for the withdrawal of the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies as the president-designate of COP28.

A joint letter signed by a large group of politicians and legislators from both sides of the Atlantic is calling for the “withdrawal of the President-designate of COP28” and for steps to be taken to “limit the influence of polluting industries” ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP28) to be held later this year in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The letter, addressed to US President Joe Biden, President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, Secretary-General António Guterres of the United Nations and Simon Stiell of the UNFCCC begins:

“We, the undersigned Members of the United States Congress and Members of the European Parliament, write to urge you to address our profound concern that current rules governing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) permit private sector polluters to exert undue influence on UNFCCC processes.”

It continues: “Ahead of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP28) climate negotiations, enacting policies that expose the influence of corporate polluters in UNFCCC meetings will help ensure that climate science takes precedence over climate delay and greenwashing. To that end, we urge you (i) to engage in diplomatic efforts to secure the withdrawal of the President-designate of COP28; and (ii) to take immediate steps to limit the influence of polluting industries, particularly major fossil fuel industry players whose business strategies lie at clear odds with the central goals of the Paris Agreement, at gatherings of the UNFCCC.”

The signatories draw attention to the fact that at last year’s COP, there were at least 636 lobbyists from the oil and gas industries.

“When the number of attendees representing polluting corporate actors, which have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo, is larger than the delegations of nearly every country in attendance, it is easy to see how their presence could obstruct climate action.”

The legislators reason that this is especially necessary if the world is to limit warming to 1.5°C. The latest IPCC report notes that to reach this goal, global emissions must halve by 2030. At present, the planet has already warmed by more than 1.2°C and every tonne of greenhouse gas (GHG) that humanity pumps into the atmosphere takes the planet ever closer to the peril that awaits in this warmer future.

Daily Maverick has reported that the IPCC report noted: “Fossil fuel use is overwhelmingly driving global warming. In 2019, around 79% of global GHG emissions came from energy, industry, transport and buildings, and 22% came from agriculture, forestry and other land use.”

The report also makes it clear that although policies to mitigate climate change have expanded, it’s likely that the world will exceed 1.5℃ of warming “in the near term”. Limiting warming to 1.5℃ or 2℃ will require deep emissions cuts across the economy this decade.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The need for action on the climate crisis is more urgent than previously assessed – IPCC

Cognisant of the above context, the letter – signed by 33 US legislators and nearly 100 European parliamentarians – continues: “In this moment of great urgency, we must unblock the barriers that have kept us from advancing strong global collaboration to address climate change. One of the largest barriers to strong climate action has been and remains the political influence and obstruction of the fossil fuel industry and other major polluting industries.”

A forever-altered planet

They add that the fossil fuel industry has been aware of the pernicious impacts of its products and activities, but has chosen to continue on the path leading to a warmer, forever-altered planet.

“Over a half-century later, not one of 39 major global oil and gas companies, with collective market capitalization of $3.7 trillion has adopted a business strategy that would limit warming to safe levels,” they write.

They appeal to the leaders to limit the influence of the fossil fuel industry by taking two actions:

  1. “We urge you to advocate for the United Arab Emirates to withdraw the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as President-designate of COP28. The decision to name as president of COP28 the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies – a company that has recently announced plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, representing the fifth largest increase in the world – risks undermining the negotiations.
  2. Second, as some of us have already urged, we request that you institute new policies for corporate participation at COPs and UNFCCC processes more broadly, including requiring participating companies to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement that discloses climate-related lobbying, campaign contributions, and funding of trade associations and organizations active on energy and climate issues.” DM
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