BP boss’s COP26 talk on human rights blasted as ‘insult’

Senior executives from BP and other big oil companies are addressing a series of meetings at the heart of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, sparking anger from campaigners.

A “business hub” set up in the United Nations central blue zone at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC), on the Clyde, features BP’s boss, Bernard Looney, talking about “human rights in the just transition”. The company’s climate director, Jeff Swartz, is speaking at three other events, while another meeting involves three other oil firms.

Environmental groups described the presence of BP as “frankly an insult” and accused the oil industry of “pure greenwashing”. They said that fossil fuel companies should have “no place” at COP26.

The Ferret reported on 31 October that 35 official side-events at COP26 were being organised by, or would feature, big polluting companies or the lobby groups that represent them.

We can now report that another series of events has been organised by the International Emissions Trading Association (Ieta), which represents the carbon trading business. Its business hub at the SEC is hosting 81 events from 1-12 November.

The hub’s headline sponsors include the US oil giant, Chevron and the mining multinational, Rio Tinto. Among its 48 partners are the Norwegian oil firm, Equinor, the US power company group, Edison Electric Institute, and the International Petroleum Industry Conservation Association, which brings together 70 multinational oil companies and national trade associations.

Ieta is a recognised observer at COP26 and its events are all designed to promote the buying and selling of carbon emissions as a way of tackling global heating. “International markets are essential for business to reach net zero goals,” it says.

One event on 2 November has BP chief executive Looney billed as taking part in a “high-level dialogue on business and human rights in the just transition”. On 3 November the company’s climate director Swartz is talking at two meetings, one on “carbon removals and compliance markets” and the other about the “voluntary carbon market in 2022”.

Swartz is speaking again on 5 November under the heading “meet the voluntary carbon market”. A session on 4 November on the “contributing to a net-zero future” includes senior officials from three oil multinationals, France’s TotalEnergies, Colombia’s Ecopetrol and Malaysia’s Petronas.

Also billed as speaking on 4 November on “partnerships to reach net-zero” is Bjørn Otto Sverdrup. He chairs the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which brings together chief executives from 12 big oil companies, including BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil. 

Culture Unstained, which campaigns against oil industry sponsorship, condemned the oil industry’s presence at COP26. “It’s frankly an insult that BP’s CEO is able to speak about ‘business and human rights in the just transition’ from inside the conference centre when so many vital voices from frontline communities have been excluded,” said the group’s co-director, Chris Garrard. 

“There is nothing just about what these oil giants are investing in. None of them are committed to phasing out their oil and gas extraction in line with the 1.5 degrees target and yet behind the scenes they are still are being granted this privileged access to influential decision-makers.”

Documents released to Culture Unstained under freedom of information law in October suggested that BP and other oil companies had been excluded from official roles at COP26. UK Government officials were concerned that BP’s climate commitments failed to “stack up”.

“Even when big oil is barred from having any formal role at COP26, firms like BP and Chevron still worm their way into the summit through their trade associations so they can take to the stage and promote their misleading claims of going net zero,” Garrard added.

BP’s logo on electric vehicle charging points was reported to be visible by the ministerial entrance to COP26.

Friends of the Earth Scotland argued that oil companies had “snuck into COP26” via Ieta’s business hub. The hub was “really just a front for dodgy emission trading and offsetting schemes,” warned the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.

“Market-based mechanisms like those promoted under the Ieta’s COP26 programme are a dangerous distraction from the real solutions to the climate crisis. Oil companies and other big polluters are using clever accounting tricks and far off net-zero claims to avoid taking responsibility for the crisis they’ve caused.”

Church added: “It’s pure greenwashing. These dirty schemes have no place under the Paris Agreement, just as fossil fuel companies and other big polluters should have no place in the climate talks.” 

The International Emissions Trading Association reiterated that it believed in an “open and fair democratic UN process that includes all points of view”. The oil companies it represented were committed to change, it said.

“We support the UK Government’s efforts to inspire a monumental, cooperative effort to achieve the Paris goals as soon as possible,” an Ieta spokesperson added.

“The business community needs to be part of the solution, so it needs to be part of the process. The Paris goals require cooperation at a scale not seen before — not exclusion and ‘cancel culture’ tactics.”

In the blurb for the business hub, Ieta president, Dirk Forrister, said they were proud to be offering a space for open dialogue about how business could help tackle climate change.

“It is our firm belief that the climate challenge can only be met if we work together. We live in an age of ‘us and them’. But climate change implores us to think differently — to think about ‘us together’ on a common journey, rising to the challenge of our lives. This is the spirit we want to celebrate in the business hub.”

BP and the United Nations have been asked to comment. BP told openDemocracy that it was not an official participant, but it was involved in side events.

“We’re very clear about what our net zero targets are,” a company spokesperson said. “We’ve set out a very clear set of ambitions, aims and targets, and that’s what we’re focussed on delivering.”

Photo thanks to iStock/James.

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