May 23, 2023

Sen. Whitehouse, MEP Aubry Lead Transatlantic Letter Calling for Climate Talks Free of Fossil Fuel Industry Interference

In lead-up to COP28, 133 U.S. and European elected officials urge ouster of oil executive as president of upcoming climate talks. Letter also encourages UNFCCC to require companies participating in COP to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry today sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Simon Stiell urging the officials to rid COP28 and all future international climate talks of persistent interference from the fossil fuel industry.  The transatlantic letter, signed by 133 members of Congress and the European Parliament, was delivered as countries prepare for the Bonn Climate Change Conference in early June, a precursor to COP28 this winter.

The signatories called on U.S., EU, and UN officials to push the UAE to withdraw Sultan Al Jaber’s appointment as COP28 president.  Al Jaber is the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which recently announced a plan to significantly expand its oil and gas production. The decision to name the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies as president of COP28 jeopardizes the opportunity for serious and productive climate negotiations.. 

The letter also requests that the UNFCCC require companies participating in COPs to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement that discloses climate-related lobbying, campaign contributions, and funding of trade associations and organizations active on energy and climate issues.  According to one analysis, at least 636 lobbyists from the oil and gas industries registered to attend COP27 last year.

“COPs offer the largest and most important venue to find international agreement on ways to solve the climate crisis,” said Sen. Whitehouse.  “Companies participating should be required to file audited climate political footprint statements to ensure transparency at the world’s major forum for leading the planet to safety in the race against climate change.”

“For billions of people, the outcome of COP28 and ensuing international climate negotiations will make the difference between life and death, chaos and solidarity,” said MEP Aubry.  “Corporate greed and lobbyists’ lies have led us into this climate crisis. We must prevent private commercial interests from interfering in politics and regain ownership of our future.”

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has been well aware of the dangers of climate change.  Despite this, they have continually promoted climate denial, downplayed their role in emitting greenhouse gas pollution, and have created countless roadblocks on our path toward a clean energy future.  The last thing we need is the chief executive of one of the planet’s largest oil and gas companies at the helm of global climate negotiations.  For the sake of our planet, President Biden, President von der Leyen, Secretary General Guterres, and Executive Secretary Stiell ought to use their power to keep the influence of the dirty fossil industry out of UNFCCC processes,” said Rep. Huffman.

“The annual COP is critical to all people and nations to accelerate the response to the climate crisis,” said Rep. Castor.  “We cannot afford for our decision-making to be delayed or influenced by the very companies that got us into this crisis.  The health of our communities and the future of our planet hang in the balance.  We must act swiftly, and we must put people over the profits and interests of big oil and gas.”

“Big Oil interests have contaminated our climate for decades—they shouldn’t be able to control our climate negotiations for a livable future,” said Sen. Markey.  “As leaders from around the world come together to envision a world that promotes clean energy and climate justice, not pollution and profiteering, we must shut the door on the fossil fuel industry and keep COP28 free from their influence.”

The letter was cosigned by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).  27 Members of the House of Representatives, including co-leads Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL), signed the letter.  99 Members of European Parliament also signed the letter.  A coalition of over 425 civil society organizations worldwide, led by Corporate Accountability and Corporate Europe Observatory, have also endorsed the letter, as has the Sierra Club.

The full letter can be found here or below.

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Dear President Biden, President von der Leyen, Secretary General Guterres, and Executive Secretary Stiell:

We, the undersigned Members of the United States Congress and Members of the European Parliament, write to urge you to address our profound concern that current rules governing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) permit private sector polluters to exert undue influence on UNFCCC processes. We address this letter to the executive leaders from the jurisdictions in which our respective bodies function and to UNFCCC leadership, who can work collectively to enact the requested reforms.

Ahead of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP28) climate negotiations, enacting policies that expose the influence of corporate polluters in UNFCCC meetings will help ensure that climate science takes precedence over climate delay and greenwashing. To that end, we urge you (i) to engage in diplomatic efforts to secure the withdrawal of the President-designate of COP28; and (ii) to take immediate steps to limit the influence of polluting industries, particularly major fossil fuel industry players whose business strategies lie at clear odds with the central goals of the Paris Agreement, at gatherings of the UNFCCC.

Last year, many of us attended or followed COP27 in Sharm-al-Sheikh, Egypt. While we applaud the United Nations for bringing tens of thousands of delegates together, leading to a historic agreement that will help developing countries deal with losses and damages from the impacts of climate change, the conference ultimately failed to secure consensus from Parties to cut greenhouse gases in line with the agreed global goals.

It did not escape our attention that at least 636 lobbyists from the oil and gas industries registered to attend last year’s COP—an increase of more than 25% over the previous year. When the number of attendees representing polluting corporate actors, which have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo, is larger than the delegations of nearly every country in attendance, it is easy to see how their presence could obstruct climate action.

As you know, there is no time to waste in sharply cutting carbon pollution on a global scale. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report states that, to limit warming to 1.5 °C, global emissions must halve by 2030. The planet has already warmed over 1.2°C, and our ability to reach the 1.5 °C goal is moving fast out of reach, with the IPCC pegging the current probability at just 38%. Maintaining the status quo would lead to a catastrophic 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century.

In this moment of great urgency, we must unblock the barriers that have kept us from advancing strong global collaboration to address climate change. One of the largest barriers to strong climate action has been and remains the political influence and obstruction of the fossil fuel industry and other major polluting industries. We have seen their negative influence in our home institutions; oil companies and their industry cheerleaders have spent billions of dollars lobbying both the European Parliament, other European institutions and Member States, and the U.S. Congress in order to obstruct or water down climate policy for years. While we acknowledge that engaging with industry can play a role, we must consider this particular industry’s track record on climate. Since at least the 1960s, the fossil fuel industry has known about the dangers of climate change posed by its products and, rather than supporting a transition to a clean energy future, has instead chosen to promote climate denial and spend millions of dollars to spread disinformation.

Over a half century later, not one of 39 major global oil and gas companies, with collective market capitalization of $3.7 trillion, has adopted a business strategy that would limit warming to safe levels. Several independent analyses agree that the sector is still not taking meaningful action to avoid the worst impacts of the crisis.

Even more outrageous, the global oil and gas industry is expanding amid blockbuster profits to the tune of $4 trillion last year. The sector has poured $160 billion into exploration for new fossil reserves since 2020, even as the IEA has stated that no new fossil fuel projects are compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. In short, in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “We seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat.” It is time to alter this dangerous course.

In June, world governments will gather in Bonn for the UN Climate Change Conference, a critical opportunity to advance progress towards implementation of the Paris Agreement, in anticipation of COP28. It is essential that we seize the opportunity to take actionable steps to address and protect climate policy from polluting interference by adopting concrete rules that limit the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists in the UNFCCC decision-making process.

First, we urge you to advocate for the United Arab Emirates to withdraw the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as President-designate of COP28. The decision to name as president of COP28 the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies—a company that has recently announced plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, representing the fifth largest increase in the world— risks undermining the negotiations. With commonsense reforms to help restore public faith in the COP process severely jeopardized by having an oil company executive at the helm, we respectfully submit that different leadership is necessary to help ensure that COP28 is a serious and productive climate summit.

Second, as some of us have already urged, we request that you institute new policies for corporate participation at COPs and UNFCCC processes more broadly, including requiring participating companies to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement that discloses climate-related lobbying, campaign contributions, and funding of trade associations and organizations active on energy and climate issues. These statements should be reviewed, publicly disclosed, and scrutinized prior to any engagement in UNFCCC climate policymaking processes. The UNFCCC should also consider additional measures to establish a robust accountability framework to protect against undue influence of corporate actors with proven vested interests that contradict the goals of the Paris Agreement; such a framework was proposed last year with broad-based international support from over 450 organizations around the world and five UNFCCC constituencies representing thousands of organizations and millions of people. These reforms would bring much-needed transparency to corporate climate-related political influencing activities around the world, and would help restore public faith that the COP process is not being abused by companies as an opportunity to greenwash.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue and for your ongoing dedication to building global support for reducing carbon pollution and combatting climate change. We welcome further engagement with you on this topic, and the lead co-signers are available to meet with you at a mutually agreeable time prior to the UN Climate Change Conference in June.

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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921

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