Business as usual: Record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP28

"As long as they commit to reduce their emissions, it will be fine."

The COP28 climate conference is being hosted by oil-rich UAE. Photo: © KARIM SAHIB / AFP

Dubai (AFP): NGOs may have slammed the record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at UN climate talks in Dubai, but the industry won't be browbeaten, with the OPEC cartel hosting a chat on "climate initiatives" and one of the heads of the "Big Oil" majors sparring with protesters.

Activists were already up in arms over the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, the head of Emirati national oil company ADNOC, as president of COP28.

The oil-rich hosts made no secret of their desire to give the fossil fuel industry a voice at the talks where the fate of oil, gas and coal is at the heart of deliberations.

On Tuesday, the umbrella group Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) claimed 2,456 people tied to fossil fuel interests have signed up to COP28 -- about four times the number from last year's UN talks in Egypt.

If taken as a group they outnumber "every country delegation" apart from the UAE and Brazil, which will host COP30 in 2025, the coalition said.

But Majid Jafar, CEO of Emirati firm Crescent Petroleum, said the United Arab Emirates was actually trying to be "inclusive", not only to "have all industries present but really having the Global South frame the debate upfront."

The UAE turned the UN talks into the largest COP ever, with more than 80,000 registered participants ranging from government officials to an array of businesses and climate activists.

Under new UN rules, attendees had to provide information about their employer and their relationship -- financial or otherwise -- with the entity applying for accreditation on their behalf.

"Do you really think Shell or Chevron or ExxonMobil are sending lobbyists to passively observe these talks?" said Alexia Leclercq, co-founder of the NGO Start:Empowerment.

"Big Polluters' poisonous presence has bogged us down for years, keeping us from advancing the pathways needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground," Leclercq said.

 

Oil CEO challenged
According to KBPO, France brought TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne, Italy included a team from Italian energy giant ENI, while the European Union brought employees of oil giants BP and ExxonMobil.

Pouyanne was approached by an activist asking him about reports that TotalEnergies has been "party to the bullying and intimidation" that resulted in communities in Uganda signing over their land.

"You think this is true?" Pouyanne replied, according to video footage posted on X, formerly Twitter. "We act in Uganda according to a code of conduct."

When asked in a separate video released by NGO 350.org his reaction to the detention of seven students opposed to an oil pipeline project in Uganda, Pouyanne said his team in the country was in contact with the authorities to get their release.

Pouyanne had already been ambushed by activists at COP27 in Egypt.

 

'It will be fine'
Exchanges were much more cordial in other corners of COP28's sprawling Expo City complex.

Groups of people mingled at the pavilion of the Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) -- a non-profit business group whose members include BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil.

IETA brought 116 people including representatives from Shell and Norway's Equinor, according to KBPO.

In a booth inside a large pavilion, Saudi-led OPEC made a presentation on "climate initiatives".

A screen reminded the small audience that the focus must be on an "all-peoples, all fuels and all-technologies approach" and that it backed technology to capture and store emissions.

One of the participants, Satya Widya Yudha, an energy industry representative in the National Energy Council of Indonesia, said that technology remained expensive.

An OPEC representative replied that "more investment is required".

When asked his thoughts on critics who denounce the presence of fossil fuel lobbyists, Yudha told AFP: "As long as they commit to reduce their emissions, it will be fine."