Thirty-five official side-events at the COP26 climate summit are being organised by, or feature, big polluting companies or the lobby groups that represent them, The Ferret can reveal.
Among the groups arranging events at the conference are the global oil and gas trade association, lobby groups from the meat and dairy industries, and representatives of the world’s nuclear energy sector.
Environmental groups said that the list of COP26 events “reads like a who’s who of greenwash”. They added that the events and exhibits presented “unique lobbying opportunities” for polluting corporates, and would allow “their key messages to echo” throughout the summit.
The list of corporate-linked meetings include 21 events taking place alongside the main negotiations in the UN-managed Blue Zone. Some 16 of these are being organised by big polluters themselves, while a further five feature speakers from them.
COP26 Blue and Green zone events
The Blue Zone will also showcase 10 permanent exhibits by organisations with links to polluting companies, including the fossil fuel industry.
Another 14 side-events hosted by, or including speakers from, polluting corporations are scheduled for the UK Government managed Green Zone.
The UK Government said that all of the corporate speakers in the Green Zone had “met robust criteria” and set “credible action plans for reducing their emissions”.
A spokesperson for the global oil and gas industry said the sector was “transitioning to meet the global challenge that is climate change”.
At least six corporate-linked events are also planned for plush locales near, but outside, the main conference area.
Scottish oilfield services company Wood Group is one of the companies organising an event on the fringes of the summit. Its invite only meeting – which will run for 13 days – will be hosted at St Vincent Plaza, an eight minute drive away from the main conference.
The three day Sustainable Innovation Forum, which is being held at Cessnock Quay, lists BMW, Drax and Coca-Cola among its business partners, while the two-day World Climate Summit, hosted in the Glasgow Hilton hotel, is sponsored by the likes of Nestle, Goldman Sachs and DuPont.
The UN’s Blue Zone will be located in the same building as the main negotiations inside the Scottish Events Campus (SEC).
The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) is co-organising one of the 21 polluter-linked Blue Zone events. It is the global oil and gas industry trade association and has members including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell.
Australian mining company BHP Billiton is another firm with fossil fuel assets holding an event inside the SEC. BHP has interests in coal mining, and is also a producer of oil and gas.
It is organising an event on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in tandem with the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA). UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Anne-Marie Travelyan, is named as one of the speakers.
CCSA has many of the same oil and gas giants among its membership as the IOGP, as well as Wood Group and the Scottish Government’s economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise.
CCS is a technology used to catch carbon emissions from industry and fossil fuel burning at source, and then store them deep in rocks under the earth.
It is controversial among environmentalists, who believe it is promoted by oil and gas companies so that they can “continue their extractive business model” unabated. Activists are also concerned that the technology cannot be scaled up quickly enough to have an impact on emissions in the next decade, which scientists say is crucial if global temperatures are to be limited to 1.5 centigrade.
Also slated for the delegate only Blue Zone are two events organised by prominent nuclear lobby groups including the World Nuclear Association. Both meetings will focus on the role that nuclear power has to play in the energy transition alongside “other low carbon technologies”.
The nuclear lobby previously expressed fears it was being excluded from the conference, after a number of applications to exhibit in the Green Zone were rejected. Some activists told The Ferret that the industry should “have no place” at the summit.
Other presenters in the Blue Zone are trade associations from the meat and dairy industries, banks with long records of financing fossil fuel projects, and the agrochemical lobby.
As well as the 21 side events, the ten exhibits by corporate polluters include one by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA).
Emissions trading is a climate scheme favoured by big polluters who want to create a global market in the buying and selling of carbon emissions. It is likely to be a key sticking point in the high-level talks happening at COP26.
Space for corporate actors in the Green Zone, which is being managed by the UK Government, is predominantly reserved for the eleven main sponsors of the conference. Green Zone events are an official part of the conference and will be open to the public at the Glasgow Science Centre.
On 26 October The Ferret reported that the sponsors contributed 350 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2020, more than everyone in the UK. Alongside their annual emissions, the sponsors have also been implicated in a litany of human rights, industrial relations, and environmental controversies.
Eight of the so-called “principal partners” of the summit are hosting or putting forward speakers for events in the Green Zone.
This includes an event by Dettol — a subsidiary of principal partner Reckitt Benckiser — to teach primary school children “long-lasting hygiene habits”.
The Better Buildings Partnership (BBP), which lists major fossil fuel financier BlackRock among its membership, is another polluter linked group presenting in the Green Zone. The BBP event will include a focus on how to “make real estate assets resilient to the physical aspects of climate change”.
Rachel Tansey, who researched the COP26 events, argued that fossil fuel companies and other major polluters were “being handed a platform for PR and greenwashing at COP26”.
“They host their own flashy trade fairs to present themselves as the solution to the climate crisis- instead of a major part of the problem,” she said.
“Despite decades of climate denial, delay and sabotage of climate action, dirty energy companies and other corporate polluters are once again being given the opportunity to co-opt and subvert climate action in the interest of corporate profits, instead of climate justice.”
“They’re about creating public support for false solutions like carbon capture and storage or carbon markets which allow the likes of Shell and BP to keep expanding fossil fuel production while claiming to care about the climate,” he told The Ferret.
“These events are actually really dangerous, as they’re attended by high level decision makers and are unique lobbying opportunities. Their key messages will no doubt keep echoing around the SEC, distracting from the task at hand which is leaving fossil fuels in the ground.”
Liz Murray, head of Scottish campaigns at Global Justice Now, argued that the events and exhibits showed that fossil fuel companies “are looking for other ways to gain influence”, after “having their official role at the COP stripped from them”.
She said: “The fossil fuel industry and other big polluters are part of the problem and are never going to be the solution.
“It’s really scandalous that they’re allowed to be present at the COP in any way and really concerning that this amount of corporate presence will surely undermine the chances of the kind of game-changing positive outcome that we need to see come from the climate talks.”
‘Robust sponsorship criteria’
The UK Government’s COP26 unit said: “The UK government is working with corporate sponsors to increase value for money for taxpayers, and reduce the overall financial cost of COP26.
“All our sponsors have met the robust sponsorship criteria, which includes making net-zero commitments with a credible action plan to achieve this, independently verified through the science-based targets initiative and/or through joining the UN backed Race to Zero both of which require them to set credible action plans for reducing their emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
A spokesperson for the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers said: “As a responsible and inclusive stakeholder, we’re proud to support third-party events where issues of relevance to our industry are discussed.
“Our industry, like many others, is transitioning to meet the global challenge that is climate change. We are playing an active role in the energy transition by actively working to reduce our own emissions, supply cleaner energy and deliver large-scale carbon abatement solutions for other sectors.
“Making sure that all relevant businesses, civil society, experts, international organisations, citizens, and others have the opportunity to exchange and work together is the only way we will deliver the change necessary for the world to meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives.”
The Ferret has asked the UNFCCC, which is running the COP26 Blue Zone, to comment.
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.
Images by ©Robert Perry