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Want to earn our respect? Protect climate negotiations from fossil fuel interests.

This year, the world’s largest annual conference on climate change, COP28, is in Dubai, UAE. The shadow looming over this year's conference is the pervasive influence of the fossil fuel industry. COP28 will be presided over by the CEO of the 11th biggest oil and gas producer in the world, ADNOC. Many have expressed deep concern about the continued undue influence of the fossil fuel giants who continually send scores of representatives to these negotiations, with the remit to undermine climate action. A staggering 636 fossil fuel delegates walked the halls of COP27 last year, outnumbering all but one country’s delegation.

However, the attendance of fossil fuel giants has not ever been limited or prevented despite corporations’ interests going against the public’s growing urgency around climate action. This is a significant and longstanding downfall of international climate negotiations, enabling corporations’ self-serving agendas to capitalise on hesitation, scepticism and greed of leaders. Not one among 39 major global oil and gas firms, boasting a collective market capitalisation of $3.7 trillion, has committed to a credible business strategy to phase out fossil fuels. Companies such as Shell have even openly publicised their influence on the Paris Agreement.

The UK Youth Climate Coalition are urging a reimagined form of collaboration. We are more than just stakeholders; we are the guardians of a future currently being negotiated. Our plea is clear. We need COP28 to centre the leadership and lived experience of people on the front lines of the climate crisis. Corporate agendas must not seep into negotiation rooms. If world leaders are serious about climate action and wish to belong on the right side of history, then the fossil fuel industry should be removed from these international policymaking spaces.

And we are not alone. Many in civil society believe COP meetings will continue to fail to deliver as long as this is deemed acceptable. Prominent figures, such as Christiana Figueres and Pope Francis have not held back in their criticism over the conflict of interest held by the fossil fuel industry. Countries representing almost 70% of the world’s population have called for conflicts of interest to be addressed.

We recognize that oil and gas firms should be a part of the conversation given their role in the global energy transition. But we cannot allow them to write the rules. They have spent decades crafting a campaign of denial, delay and distraction to serve themselves and will continue to do so if we look the other way. Research from 2017 analyzed ExxonMobil’s 40-year history of climate-change communications, revealing systematic discrepancies between what ExxonMobil scientists acknowledged about climate science privately and in academic circles, and what the company communicated to the public. How can we expect firms with a stake in the continued burning of fossil fuels to be a credible voice in driving climate action?

As we urge for a refocusing of COP28 around those directly impacted by climate change, the role of national governments, particularly the UK, becomes increasingly critical. Yet, the UK government's climate change strategy has been marred by significant failures. The recent approval of the Rosebank oil field, for instance, stands as a testament to these failures. Such decisions run counter to the urgent need for a shift away from fossil fuel reliance. We call upon the UK Government, who must set a precedent with clear and actionable steps:

  1. Lead By Example: Ensure that all in the UK COP delegation openly declare their interests, ensuring transparency and demonstrating the absence of undue influence from fossil fuel companies

  2. Ensure Corporate Accountability: Champion proposals to prevent those representing corporations without scientifically satisfactory climate targets and track record of delivering emissions reductions from entering COP conferences

  3. Advocate for Sustainable Leadership: Endorse the idea of a COP presidency free from fossil fuel interests, not only for this COP but for all future COPs as well

  4. End Support from Polluting Entities: Support an end to corporate sponsorships by polluting entities for COP and UNFCCC events

COP28 must commit countries to immediate action, essential to safeguarding our climate and futures. Young people worldwide need decision makers to listen to their calls for a total and equitable transition away from fossil fuels, not to those of the polluters continuing to weaken and undermine climate action. Without removing fossil fuel conflicts of interest in negotiation spaces, imagining a cleaner, fairer, and liveable future is impossible - we must kick them out.


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