Cop26 sponsors condemn ‘very last minute’ climate summit prep

Corporate sponsors that have sunk millions of pounds into Cop26 have reportedly penned a letter condemning the upcoming climate conference as a “mismanaged” potential disaster. 

According to The Guardian, broadcaster Sky has sent an official complaint to the summit organisers that has been co-signed by “senior leaders” from some of the other nine major sponsors of the summit, which is due to kick off in Glasgow on 31 October. The letter blamed “very inexperienced” civil servants for “delayed decisions” and “poor communication” that have led to “a breakdown in relations between the organisers and firms” in the run-up to the climate change talks, said the paper.

The UK Cop26 presidency is being overseen by the Cabinet Office, under the leadership of former business secretary Alok Sharma and businessman Nigel Topping, who was appointed last year as “the government’s high-level climate action champion”, said euronews. “Sponsorship is expected to help defray a policing bill estimated to reach up to £250m,” the news site added.

But concerns about the event have been growing among the big-bucks sponsors, who sent “another co-signed letter” to the organisers in July, The Guardian claimed.

Which of the main sponsors – which include Microsoft, NatWest, Sainsbury’s and National Grid – have put their names to the written complaints was “unclear”, said The Independent. One sponsor, Unilever, has denied signing the letter.

An anonymous source “employed by a Cop26 sponsor” told The Guardian that “the biggest frustration” among the group was the lack of information about how the event will run, and the role that they will play. 

The organisers “had an extra year to prepare for Cop due to Covid, but it doesn’t feel like this time was used to make better progress”, the source said. “Everything feels very last minute.”

Other insiders said that many of the corporate backers were “bewildered” by the slow progress of the event, with mounting anger over the “top-down public sector approach” adopted by “very young, very inexperienced” civil servants.

“It’s clear that many of them have very little experience managing relationships in the private sector, or even experience attending a Cop event,” an insider added. 

Concerns have also been raised about the conference’s “green zone” exhibition space, where sponsors were promised an opportunity to promote their brands through public events and workshops during the 12-day summit. According to The Guardian, “in multiple emails and official letters, the companies have complained to organisers about unmet expectations”.

An anonymous “Whitehall veteran of Cop summits” hit back against the criticisms, telling the paper that “it feels like some of these sponsors have forgotten the actual reason we’re in Glasgow”.

“Cop isn’t about branding, it’s about tackling climate change,” the Whitehall insider said.

And Cop’s organisers insisted that most sponsors were “delighted with the support, despite the operational complexities of bringing 25,000 people to Glasgow from almost all the countries in the world”, reported The Times’ Whitehall editor Chris Smyth.  “All civil servants in the Cop unit, regardless of experience, are working around the clock,” the organisers added.

Despite those efforts, reports that leaders from some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters will not attend the summit has cast a shodow over the event. 

The Times reported last week that Boris Johnson had been advised that the no-shows were likely to include China’s President Xi Jinping – a major “setback to the ambitions of the Cop26 summit” that increased “international pessimism that the event will be successful”, said the paper.

But Downing Street sources “said Chinese officials had not been definitive about the president’s travel plans and they accepted it was possible Xi could change his mind”, reported the BBC.

“They want to be seen as green leaders, so I wouldn’t rule it out,” said a Whitehall source.

The Russian ambassador to Britain, Andrei Kelin, said yesterday that President Vladimir Putin had “not yet decided” whether to attend the conference in person, but promised that a “very high-level” Russian delegation of more than 200 people would show up, said The Times’ Smyth. 

Kelin told The Andrew Marr Show that Russia was “not very much in a hurry” to reach net zero, however. “We do not believe that putting artificial goals and not very much calculated goals will help,” the ambassador said.


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