Environmental groups boycott events sponsored by fossil fuel firms

fossil fuel

Scottish campaigners are backing a boycott of media events sponsored by “pariah” fossil fuel companies in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Friends of the Earth Scotland has joined 16 leading environmental groups across Europe by refusing to take part in debates and conferences on climate and energy policy sponsored by oil and gas companies.

The groups argue that polluting companies shouldn’t be allowed to frame the issues for decision-makers. “When your house is on fire, you don’t need advice from the people who surrounded it with kindling and struck a match,” says one.

The North Sea oil and gas industry, however, said companies have “actively been diversifying into renewable energies” and that the sector is “eager” to work with others to tackle the climate crisis.

According to campaign groups, there have been 29 European Union (EU) events in 2020 and 2021 sponsored by fossil fuel companies. They included 50 panellists who were senior EU officials.

The sponsoring companies often provide the keynote speakers, and hence help to determine the agendas for discussions with European Commissioners, members of the European Parliament and EU officials, campaigners say.

Now 16 groups have written to three media organisations — the Financial Times, Euractiv and Politico — announcing they will no longer accept invitations to speak at events sponsored by fossil fuel companies.

“‍For the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry before it, image is everything. Being seen as a legitimate partner and part of the solution to the climate crisis is key,” said the letter. 

“By sponsoring high profile events organised by media outlets such as yours, the fossil fuel industry is buying a platform to gain credibility and undue influence.”

The three media organisations are all said to have recently hosted events sponsored by fossil fuel companies. Campaigners point out that other media have not recently run events supported by the industry.

The letter has been signed by Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace, the WWF European Policy Office, Global Witness, 350.org, the European Federation of Public Service Unions and Corporate Europe Observatory.

Conference organisers should understand that oil money is unacceptable when associated with their events.

Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland

Friends of the Earth Scotland accused the fossil fuel industry of “looking for any scrap of credibility” it can find. “Oil and gas firms are driving climate change and trying to keep on with business as usual, so they should be treated as pariahs at the climate talks and in society in general,” said the group’s director, Dr Richard Dixon.

“Conference organisers should understand that oil money is unacceptable when associated with their events. We will not be taking part in events sponsored by the oil industry.”

Lala Hakuma Dadci, coordinator of the umbrella group, Fossil Free Politics, said: “When your house is on fire, you don’t need advice from the people who surrounded it with kindling and struck a match – especially if that advice is to look into different types of kindling and fancier matches.

“Fossil fuel companies sponsor media events as part of a strategy to set the terms of the EU debate on climate and energy in ways that suit them and put themselves in the centre. They exploit the credibility of trusted news brands to get close to EU decision makers and delay the urgent action needed to prevent climate breakdown.”

Greenpeace warned that the “excellent work” done by journalists at the Financial Times, Euractiv and Politico was being “undermined” by the podiums offered to polluters.

“Fossil fuel companies use these events to promote their private interests to EU decision makers and the public – even at the cost of global climate breakdown – and we refuse to legitimise that by our participation,” said Greenpeace’s Silvia Pastorelli.

The Guardian announced in 2020 that it would no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies. There’s a campaign to try and persuade The New York Times to do the same.

Politico stressed that event sponsors had no influence on the organisation’s editorial content. “The objectivity, independence and integrity applied to our coverage also apply to our Politico Live events,” a spokesperson said.

Politico was “neither judge nor jury” on policy debates and did not endorse causes

The groups’ decision not to participate in events was “their prerogative” but it was “a pity that they would choose not to represent their point of view”, the spokesperson added.

The Financial Times and Euractiv have been asked to comment.

Oil and Gas UK, which represents the offshore industry, argued that “past perceptions miss the current reality”. The UK’s oil and gas companies have “actively been diversifying into renewable energies” for many years now, according to the group’s sustainability director, Mike Tholen.

“The industry has changed beyond all recognition and we’re deploying 50 years of energy expertise to accelerate these and other crucial technologies such as carbon capture and storage recommended by the Climate Change Committee,” he said.

“We’re not just committed to ensuring the UK achieves its climate goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, we’re a critical part of achieving it, and we’re eager for anyone who also wants to tackle the crisis to work with us.”

Photo thanks to iStock/think4photop.

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