COP27 report: The fossil fuel industry continues to block the way to climate justice
The situation is dire. Entire neighborhoods are under water, priceless cultural heritage has disappeared and ecosystems have been destroyed. The destruction caused by climate change is directly linked to human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. There are multiple realistic and tangible solutions that would rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world, but policy to address anthropogenic climate change remains slow and insufficient. This dangerous delay in action is largely due to the fossil fuel industry continuing to increase carbon emissions and standing in the way of change.
During the 27 of the UNe Conference of the Parties—COP27—several nations, including Estonia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, and Tanzania, have announced plans to move to 100 percent renewable energy. Colombia has announced its intention to stop developing oil and gas. Tuvalu has approved the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. A high-level UN report released at the start of COP27 clearly recommends that net zero means an end to fossil fuel exploration, expansion and production. And, on Saturday, during the negotiations, India called for a phase-out of all fossil fuels.
All of these efforts show that the global community can come together and quickly phase out all fossil fuels and build a better future for all of us. However, as the first week of the UN climate negotiations draws to a close at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, I have witnessed some disturbing events that undermine the essential work of the conference. , especially the dominant position of the fossil fuel industry and problematic role.
Fossil fuel interests shape the narrative
First, it is important to understand that the basic framing and communication around COP27 comes from Hill+Knowlton. Hill+Knowlton is a leading public relations firm that works with a number of fossil fuel polluters – Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco and Shell – and a key international lobby group for the fossil fuel industry, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. Hill+Knowlton’s offices in London even serve as the headquarters of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.
This relationship creates an unacceptable conflict of interest. In its work for COP27, Hill+Knowlton is responsible for accurately communicating this critical UN climate conference to the world. But the results the world needs and the results its customers in the oil and gas industry likely want are in conflict. The business plans of these companies call for increasing the production of fossil fuels, which is in direct opposition to the main objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is to establish a just global process to limit the worst consequences of climate change. .
I joined over 400 other scientists in calling on Hill+Knowlton to drop its fossil fuel customers in light of its work at COP27. Hill+Knowlton cannot ethically represent companies profiting from fossil fuels and spreading misinformation to block government action while managing communications for the UN climate negotiations that must act to boldly transform our global energy policies.
Hill+Knowlton has a long history of representing special interests that conflict with the public interest. One of its founders, John Hill, pioneered the tactic of creating seemingly objective and independent science to manipulate public policy. He created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee to promote pseudoscience to support the tobacco industry’s narrative that there was no health risk associated with cigarettes. It is the company that performs the same function for the fossil fuel industry, framing COP27 for the world.
Fossil Fuel’s oversized seat at the COP27 table
Historically, the fossil fuel industry has played an outsized role in COP negotiations. At COP26, for example, there were over 500 delegates associated with the fossil fuel industry. The combined number of delegates from the fossil fuel industry was greater than that of delegations from some countries. Approximate figures from COP27 show a 25% increase in industry representation this year, an increase of 160 delegates. There are 70 fossil fuel delegates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) delegation alone, which does not bode well for next year’s COP28, when the United Arab Emirates will be the host.
What does undue industry influence at the conference actually mean?
One example last Friday, the theme of which was decarbonization, included a panel discussion titled “From Commitments to Action: The Oil and Gas Industry’s Decarbonization Journey,” featuring industry representatives. But the very premise of the discussion is troubling. There can be no decarbonization without phasing out the main cause of carbon pollution: fossil fuels.
When considering the role the fossil fuel industry plays at the COP, it is important to remember three key things:
- Research by UCS and others shows that oil and gas industry deception and obstruction have worsen the climate crisis. The oil and gas industry could have helped prevent climate change if it had acted on what its own scientists knew 60 years ago. Instead, he has spent decades blocking and blocking climate action.
- When oil and gas companies stand up at COP today, they mostly talk about net zero commitments, but, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “It is reprehensible to use false promises of “net zero” to hide the massive expansion of fossil fuels. … The deception must stop. We need to stay focused on the carbon pollution that industry is responsible for right now and keep reducing emissions as the primary goal.
- If oil and gas companies really wanted to decarbonize, they could. This process would begin with the immediate halting of new exploration and extraction projects and the initiation of a meaningful plan to rapidly reduce their production and sales of fossil fuels. Instead, many companies are proposing to increase mining in the coming years.
Decarbonization will rely on keeping big polluters out of policymaking. Fossil fuel companies should be held accountable and made to pay for climate damage to communities, not a global platform to green their image.
Misinformation about loss and damage
For decades, scientists have known that burning fossil fuels results in global warming emissions that heat up the planet, leading to massive climate change and harmful impacts. Despite this knowledge, private and public fossil fuel companies have continued to invest in and support the burning of coal, oil and gas. As a result of these decisions, communities today face significant loss and damage.
While negotiations around loss and damage continuing this week at COP27, it is essential that we ensure that funds for loss and damage are fair reimbursement for real losses linked to climate change. Analysis by Climate Action Against Disinformation shows that some groups are already trying to reframe the debate through a negative lens, but the reality is quite simple.
When a party makes an intentional decision that causes harm to another party, it has a responsibility to try to repair that damage. Responsibility is not a difficult idea. Today, the United States and other nations must stand up and take ownership by ensuring that COP27 participants establish a process to raise and distribute new funds for loss and damage.
Loss and damage is not a new idea. Island nations raised concerns about loss and damage in 1991. And, as a negotiator from Vanuatu pointed out, if climate change had been tackled in 1991, there wouldn’t be a need for large funds. for loss and damage today. Now, 30 years later, loss and damage is formally negotiated at the COP.
At COP26, there were intense negotiations around loss and damage, but there was little interest in the topic beyond a small slice of journalists, politicians and activists.
It’s a whole different story at COP27. As negotiators move forward in defining structures that could facilitate the payment of loss and damage, opponents are trying to rebrand loss and damage as “climate reparations” to politicize the idea. They use a classic strategy to try to foment division and spread misinformation about loss and damage by picking facts and pitting nations against each other.
At COP27, nations are calling on the fossil fuel industry to pay for the losses and damages they have caused by fueling climate change. These calls to action come from Pakistan and a coalition of 39 small island and low-lying coastal developing states, known as the Alliance of Small Island States.
Industry still distorts science
When I speak with brilliant negotiators and passionate climate leaders from around the world at COP27, it seems so obvious to me that we can come together to limit the worst consequences of climate change. But, as I detailed above, the oil and gas industry stands in the way of that future. The final chapter of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on North America recognized for the first time that “the vested economic and political interests have generated rhetoric and misinformation that undermines climate science and disregard risk and urgency, leading to misguided political perceptions of climate risk and polarized public support for climate action. The nefarious role of the fossil fuel industry is still very evident at COP27.
The industry continues to twist the narrative and shape the very science that policy makers rely on to make informed decisions. A study published last week in Nature reviewed scientific studies on natural gas and found that reports from research centers funded by the fossil fuel industry were more supportive of natural gas than renewables. Taking a page from the playbook written by John Hill decades ago, industry is still influencing science.
The global community must follow the nations that are leading the charge for a fossil fuel-free future, and the oil and gas industry must step aside.