It has been uncovered that more than 160 organizations known for denying climate change were granted access to Cop28.
The Guardian has uncovered that over 160 organizations, including industry trade groups, think tanks, and public relations agencies known for denying climate change and providing misinformation, have been granted entry to the UN climate negotiations in Dubai.
According to Corporate Accountability, a group that monitors transparency, it has been discovered that the UN approved access for organizations that have impeded regulations on fossil fuels and other climate initiatives. These groups were granted equal or even more access to international negotiations compared to Indigenous communities, human rights groups, and climate justice organizations.
Country delegations extend invitations to both organizations and individuals, granting them access to closed-door negotiations that are not open to civil society and grassroots groups.
Recently obtained information, gathered from official records of UN representatives, has revealed the presence of at least 166 individuals and organizations who deny the existence of climate change or are associated with promoting fossil fuel interests at Cop28. However, the actual number is likely much greater as the analysis only considered the most well-known entities. Many of these groups have been attending the UN climate negotiations for an extended period of time.
The event Cop28 is scheduled to occur at the conclusion of the warmest year ever recorded. Climate experts are cautioning that we must act quickly to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and prevent a complete climate disaster. Studies suggest that developing countries are facing an irreversible loss and damage that could exceed $400 billion per year, with projections of this number increasing. Therefore, time is of the utmost importance.
However, the level of impact that the oil and gas industry holds in Dubai is unparalleled. This is evidenced by the fact that there are over 2,400 lobbyists registered at Cop28 who are affiliated with the industry, which is four times the number of lobbyists present in Sharm el-Sheikh last year.
David Tong, the global industry campaign manager at Oil Change International, expressed outrage at the presence of climate denying organizations and PR agencies for fossil fuel companies at the United Nations climate change conference. He stated that it is disgraceful that these groups are given a platform to spread misinformation and manipulate the narrative.
According to Ashka Naik, director of research and policy at Corporate Accountability, organizations supported and financed by fossil fuels, such as API, are granted equal access to decision-making processes as non-governmental organizations with public interest. This allows them to sway policy decisions, which should prioritize the well-being of people and the environment, rather than catering to profit-driven entities that contribute to the climate crisis.
The World Health Organization has a rule against tobacco companies and lobbyists attending its summits. However, the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) does not have a policy regarding conflicts of interest, which means organizers are not able to prevent bad-faith actors from registering as observers.
The obstructors of climate action present at Cop28 include the American Petroleum Institute (API), the biggest organization representing the fossil fuel industry. API has consistently hindered the passing of domestic laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Leaked documents suggest that API has been intentionally deceiving the public about the reality of climate change since the 1980s. API is attending Cop28 as an accredited observer, along with other organizations such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International.
Most oil, gas and coal in fields and mines operating now must stay in the ground to have a chance of keeping global heating below 1.5C. Yet API is behind Energy Citizens, an astroturfing front group that has coordinated climate denial and pro-fossil fuel campaigns aimed to look like grassroots movements. API has also financially backed the Heartland Institute, a free-market thinktank at the center of climate misinformation, and which in recent years has sent hundreds of thousands of climate denial textbooks to American public schools.
A representative from API stated: “We are pleased to have the chance to hear from international leaders and participate in conversations that promote solutions for climate change. API recognizes the importance of tackling this issue together and is dedicated to promoting a future with lower carbon emissions while also meeting the growing global need for affordable, dependable, and sustainable energy.”
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a US-based think tank with libertarian beliefs, is currently attending Cop28 as an accredited observer delegation. Earlier this year, the institute referred to the IPCC’s final report as a “far-left manifesto.”
Myron Ebell, the CEI’s former energy and environment director and current senior fellow, was one of the main architects of the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement during the Trump administration. Ebell is not in Dubai but was accredited at multiple previous Cops, according to UN delegate lists.
The Edison Electric Institute, an organization representing private electricity companies in the United States, has a history of promoting denial of climate change dating back to the 1990s. They have attended at least 14 conferences as an accredited observer delegation. EEI was instrumental in the creation of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a group that aimed to discredit and spread inaccurate information about climate change. Recently, the EEI’s attempts to prevent policies aimed at reducing emissions were exposed by The Guardian.
Harjeet Singh, the head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, stated that the past 30 years have been wasted in terms of taking action against climate change, ever since the significant 1992 climate change convention. This is largely due to the widespread influence of those who deny climate change and lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry. Their continued involvement presents a major risk to the honesty of global climate policymaking, especially when it comes to the crucial phase-out of fossil fuels.
The EEI’s chief strategy officer, Brian Wolff, stated that their members are the most enthusiastic backers of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the clean energy tax credits included in the Inflation Reduction Act. These measures aim to encourage the adoption of new carbon-free technologies and generation, ultimately reducing the financial burden on customers.
PR agencies are facing increased scrutiny for their significant involvement in promoting climate misinformation and hindering efforts to address climate change, despite operating behind the scenes for many years.
WPP, a company based in the United Kingdom, holds over 50 agreements with fossil fuel companies. This includes six contracts with BP and they have also conducted campaigns for other major oil and gas companies such as Saudi Aramco, Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC), ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Petrobras. A study on climate disinformation found that WPP’s clients BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies were responsible for almost 98% of all deceptive and misleading advertisements about green initiatives and fossil fuels on Facebook from January to October 2023.
A representative from WPP stated: “We deem it crucial for energy companies to convey honest, just, and precise messages. We have strict criteria for the content we create for our clients, and strive to accurately portray their actions and commitments at all times.”
FTI Consulting, based in Washington, has notable clients such as ExxonMobil, Eurogas, the Trans Adriatic pipeline, Hydrogen Europe, and the Hydrogen Council. The Climate Investigations Center has accused FTI of setting up front groups and fake news channels, impersonating reporters, and producing negative reports about climate scientists and activists. In 2020, FTI was found to have created false websites in support of fracking and gas exploration, masquerading as citizen and grassroots movements. In 2022, the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Oversight and Investigations Panel examined FTI’s alleged use of deceptive PR strategies to deceive the public about climate change and promote the interests of fossil fuel companies.
A representative stated that the services offered by FTI Consulting’s strategic communications experts align with the company’s climate and net-zero goals, serving clients from various industries.
Edelman is one of the agencies present in Dubai, participating in official delegations for the UAE, Malaysia, and Canada. This allows them to have access to private negotiations.
Although this is not the initial occurrence for Edelman’s involvement in COP, the public relations company and its affiliated organizations have a track record of aiding PR efforts to hinder climate-related policies, working with clients such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, TotalEnergies, and the American Petroleum Institute. Internal records obtained by Greenpeace indicate that Edelman was responsible for a deceptive campaign that gave the impression of widespread public support for the Keystone XL pipeline on behalf of TransCanada.
David Armiak, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, expressed concerns about the presence of climate change denial groups and PR firms at Cop28. He questioned the true intentions of the talks and whether they are truly focused on enacting effective policies to address the urgent climate crisis. Including groups that spread misinformation about climate change only serves to undermine the seriousness of these discussions.