This COP28 president promised to deliver on 4 pillars: fast-tracking the transition to a low CO2 world; fixing issues around climate finance; focusing on people, lives and livelihoods; and ensuring the talks are fully inclusive. However, the last few days have made it abundantly clear that these were mere shallow promises, which have dried up after days under the Dubai sun.
Figure 1: UKYCC activists [left to right: Alexa, Elouise, Lucy, Pia and George] take part in an action to call out fossil fuel interests at COP28 with Kick Big Polluters Out.
Analysis by Kick Big Polluters Out - a global coalition of more than 450 groups, including UKYCC - has found that at least 2456 fossil fuel lobbyists roam the halls of COP28, adding to the more than 7000 occasions in which such lobbyists have attended the COPs over the last 20 years. This number exceeds almost all government delegations, including the delegations of the 10 most climate vulnerable countries combined. These findings add further colour to an overwhelming body of evidence that illustrates a decades-long campaign by the fossil fuel industry to deny, deceive, and delay climate action. Most concerningly, these findings are likely just the tip of the iceberg of what fossil fuel lobbyist presence really looks like at these talks.
Why is this a problem? This week, we saw COP28’s very own President, Sultan Al-Jaber, reported denying the science behind the need to phase-out fossil fuels to meet the 1.5 degree warming target. He even went so far as to suggest that we will regress to “caves” if we forfeit further fossil fuel production. His blatant conflict of interest continues to undermine COP28, and reduce the Presidency’s calls of ambition to mere pithy PR.
Figure 2: UKYCC activist, George Carew-Jones, speaking a protest on Conflicts of Interest at COP28.
We have to remember what the fossil fuel industry is and what it stands for: the continued extraction, burning, and polluting of fossil fuels. Their lobbyists are legally, contractually, and financially obligated to promote a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Their bottom line will always be profit from the extraction, production, and burning of fossil fuels, which sits in direct contradiction to the intent of these talks, and undermines the dire need to deliver a just fossil fuel phase-out and the rapid scale up of real climate solutions.
Fossil fuel representatives do have a role to play in the climate crisis. That is to stop undermining and delaying legitimate climate action. They can rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, and support the world in transitioning justly to new green infrastructure, in line with frameworks developed by the world’s scientific community.
Figure 3: Flag featuring the call to "Stop financing fossil fuels"
Thanks to years of campaigning and pressure from civil society groups, including UKYCC, this year, for the first time ever, participants are required to disclose who they represent and by whom they are paid. This means there is now greater transparency within the talks as to who is at the policymaking table, and means it is harder for big polluters to hide. It’s a long overdue victory - but it’s just a first step.
UKYCC at COP28 are campaigning for the UNFCCC to recognise the gravity of this issue and how it undermines the integrity of this process. We are calling for:
A COI framework to ensure that fossil fuels representatives are no longer granted free reign of these talks, and that curtails their ability to write the rules of global climate action.
A fossil free presidency free of vested interests that may undermine its leadership, and the removal of polluting sponsors that continue to bankroll these talks.
For governments to recognise the vested interests that undermine their own teams, and to platform negotiators that understand the urgency of this process.
For the voices of those most affected by the climate crisis to sit front and centre within these talks.
Figure 4: UKYCC activists [left to right: Lucy, Scott and Sarah] take part in an action to call out fossil fuel interests at COP28 with Kick Big Polluters Out.
KBPO's also coincide with findings that 2023 is set to become the hottest year since records began. For every fossil fuel lobbyist roaming this COP, there is a community somewhere facing a new, unprecedented disaster set to decimate their livelihoods, security, and culture. For every new project that is drilled into the ground, a family somewhere drinks polluted water or breathes smog-ridden air as a result of a plundering of their lands. For every pound provided to subsidise these projects, another home becomes inhospitable as a result of extreme heat and water deprivation as the world faces the hottest year on record.
Fossil fuel companies have had their chance to contribute meaningfully to this discussion, and have been present at these talks for longer than our own lifetimes. Yet time and time again, they proceed to undermine progress and deny the research and lived experiences that paint a clear picture of the further destruction to come. So the time has come to officially kick polluters out and allow those who represent people and the planet to take the wheel.