Oil, gas and coal interests swarm global climate summit in Dubai

Fossil fuel interests are swarming this year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference, possibly like never before, according to research released Tuesday by a coalition of advocacy groups.

More than 2,400 people with ties to companies that produce or consume oil, natural gas, and coal - or from trade groups that advocate for those industries - are registered to attend COP28 in Dubai, according to the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition, which reviewed public registrations. That outnumbered nearly all the national and civil society delegations on hand to negotiate at the world’s biggest climate summit, according to the group.

The fossil fuel representation is rising even faster than overall attendance, which has also surged this year as global temperatures hit records and more companies, financiers, world leaders and activists see rising stakes at the event. Compared with last year’s summit in Egypt, four times the number of people with fossil fuel ties are registered to attend, while overall attendance is up roughly threefold, the coalition said.

The numbers reflect how the global oil and gas industry is investing to influence the world’s response to climate change. The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is COP28′s host and appointed Sultan Al Jaber, who runs its state-owned oil company and a renewable energy company, as president. Al Jaber’s team has made a full-throated defense of fossil fuels’ potential to help address climate change, and welcomed oil companies into negotiations on deals to cut planet-warming emissions.

“For 30 years, industry has denied, deceived, and delayed climate action at the [United Nations] and every level of government,” the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition said in an email. “And yet this body has treated these deceptive, self-serving, disingenuous, bad actors to a seat at a table they have no business being at.”

Spokespeople for COP28 leadership could not immediately be reached for a response.

Al Jaber spearheaded a deal announced Saturday for oil and gas companies to reduce some of their emissions, and he and other industry advocates have said carbon-capture systems and other technologies can reduce fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change. Alan Armstrong, chief executive of the pipeline giant Williams Cos., said the United States has become a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions - in large part by transitioning from coal to natural gas.


Executives are “tired of being told they’re bad people because they’re part of the fossil fuel industry, while they have a lot to offer on emissions reductions,” said Armstrong, reflecting the industry’s messaging that natural gas is less damaging to the climate than coal.

“We are really kind of focused on making sure there’s an awareness around the opportunity of reducing emissions with natural gas,” added Armstrong, whose company transports a third of the U.S. gas supply and has never before sent a representative to COP.

Scientists convened by the United Nations have concluded burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change. A detailed United Nations assessment released in September said the world remains far off track in its efforts to halt it, and that aggressively scaling up renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels are among the best ways to avoid global warming’s worst consequences.

The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition has more than 450 endorsements, including activist groups such as Greenpeace and Code Pink, to block companies from helping write rules on climate policy or bankrolling efforts to do so. As part of its activism, it regularly reviews the official lists of COP delegates, which includes attendees from governments, U.N. bodies, intergovernmental organizations and the media.

The authors classified delegates as fossil fuel industry representatives if they listed an affiliation or membership with a fossil fuel company or trade association, or sometimes companies just with ties to them. While its list includes many executives from companies such as oil giant ExxonMobil and coal miner Glencore, it also includes some from consumer products companies such as PepsiCo and Nestlé, or energy companies that have made big investments in renewables such as Siemens Energy and Orsted.

The coalition said trade groups are the largest forces of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP28, in some cases far outnumbering individual companies. It says the largest is the Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association - a business group devoted to credit trading as a way to reduce emissions - which brought 116 people from companies including oil majors Shell and TotalEnergies.

A spokeswoman for the association pointed to the group’s official policy on participation in the climate talks.

A Shell spokesman said the company sends “a small number” to these events as observers, and broadly the company advocates for policies that support lower-carbon energy.

TotalEnergies could not immediately be reached.

While COP attendance from fossil fuel companies is clearly surging, it is difficult to fully confirm whether this year’s number is a record. The United Nations has not historically required delegates to disclose their affiliation with a fossil fuel company or trade group, so historic disclosures have been voluntary and probably led to undercounting, the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition has said.

U.N. officials changed course in June, announcing that for the first time, representatives for polluting industries will need to identify themselves as such when registering for as COP28. The decision followed years of pressure from the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition.