At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists have been granted access to the Cop28 climate negotiations, according to an analysis.
The figure calculated by the Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition is a record number that raises further questions about the fossil fuel industry’s influence over this year’s UN summit, which is being run by the president of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company.
The scale of oil and gas influence in Dubai is unprecedented, with almost four times as many industry-affiliated lobbyists than the number registered for Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh – which itself was a record year.
Lobbyists vying to push the interests of oil and gas companies such as Shell, Total and ExxonMobil outnumber every country delegation apart from Brazil (3,081), which is expected to run Cop30 in 2025, and the host country, which registered 4,409 attenders.
Fossil fuel lobbyists also outnumber official Indigenous representatives (316) by seven to one – another sign, say campaigners, that oil and gas industry profits are being prioritised over a sustainable planet and frontline communities.
Caroline Muturi, a coordinator at the campaign group Ibon Africa, said: “These findings tell us that the dynamics within these spaces remain fundamentally colonial. Cops have become an avenue for these corporations to greenwash their polluting businesses and foist dangerous distractions from real climate action.”
The revelations come during another catastrophic year for the climate, with supercharged extreme weather events striking every corner of the world, from unprecedented rainfall in Libya, severe drought threatening the Amazon, and a sharp increase in heat deaths from Arizona to southern Europe.
Scientists say such destructive storms, drought and heat would have been almost impossible without the warming caused by burning fossil fuels, which must be phased out to avoid total climate breakdown.
Momentum to secure a commitment to phase out fossil fuels at Cop28 has been growing, especially among the most vulnerable countries, but many of the biggest polluting countries are holding out.
The irreversible loss and damage in developing countries is estimated by some studies to be greater than $400bn annually – and expected to rise – so time is of the essence.
Rachel Rose Jackson, a research director at Corporate Accountability, said: “If Cop28 doesn’t deliver a fossil fuel phase out, we know who to blame. We are angry, and we are over having to explain again and again why the fossil fuel industry should not be writing the climate rules.”
KBPO is a coalition of more than 450 organisations across the world calling for an end to fossil fuel companies’ influence in climate policy. After years of pressure for greater transparency, the UN caved and this year required applicants to declare who they represent, which may partly explain the rise in oil and gas lobbyists, as they may previously have attended previous Cops incognito.
The data on lobbyists was compiled by the organisations Corporate Accountability, Global Witness and Corporate Europe Observatory from the UN’s provisional list of about 84,000 participants at Cop28, and is the most in-depth study into fossil fuel industry presence at any talks to date. It found:
Fossil fuel lobbyists received more passes than the combined total of delegates (1,609) from the 10 most climate vulnerable countries combined, including Somalia, Chad, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Sudan.
Many fossil fuel lobbyists were granted access as part of a trade association, of which nine of the 10 largest came from the global north. This included the Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association, which brought 116 people including representatives from Shell, TotalEnergies and Norway’s Equinor.
The sharp rise in industry lobbyists is perhaps unsurprising given recent revelations that the host country planned to use climate meetings with other countries to promote deals for its national oil and gas companies.
The Cop president, Sultan Al Jaber, was recorded claiming there was “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels.
But cosy state-industry relations are by no means confined to the UAE: France brought representatives from TotalEnergies and EDF as part of its delegation, Italy brought a team of ENI representatives, and the EU brought employees of BP, ENI and ExxonMobil, the research found.
“You would not invite arms dealers to a peace conference,” said David Tong of Oil Change International. “Countries and communities are here negotiating for their lives, while the fossil companies and their enablers are here for their wallets. These dirty tricks must not stop us from achieving a far, fast, full, and funded phase-out.”
A fossil fuel company is defined by KBPO as any business with significant interests in the exploration, extraction, refining, trading, or specialised transportation of oil, gas or coal – or the sale of electricity derived from them.
Last year, KBPO analysis showed that at least 636 fossil fuel lobbyists were granted access to the Cop27 talks in Egypt, up 25% from 503 the previous year in Glasgow.
Despite this year’s record tally, the true number of lobbyists could be even higher, as the KBPO methodology relies on delegates openly disclosing their connections to fossil fuel interests to organisers.
Corporate access and lobbying at UN climate talks are not new, or limited to the fossil fuel industry, with other sectors deeply implicated in the crisis such as finance, agribusiness, and transportation also present in significant numbers.
Some countries, business and civil society groups say it is essential to bring private interests to the negotiating table.
Direct industry influence – good and bad – is difficult to measure. But after almost 30 years of climate talks and irrefutable scientific evidence on the link between fossil fuels and global heating, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. On Sunday, day four of the talks, the first-ever climate-health agreement was signed by 125 countries but without any mention of fossil fuels.
Drue Slatter, a Fijian member of the Pacific Climate Warriors, said: “They are here in such big numbers because they are scared. The people have spoken, the science has spoken. We need to get them out of these negotiations.”
Eric Njuguna, a climate justice campaigner at Fridays for Future Mapa, in Kenya, added: “The fossil fuel industry is a bad faith actor here, pushing false solutions like carbon markets and carbon capture and storage.
“We cannot achieve climate justice for frontline communities with the industry influencing these talks. We need a conflict of interest policy at [conference organisers] the United Nations framework convention on climate change.”