New Delhi: Eighteen of the 20 sponsors of this year’s COP27, had links to the fossil fuel industry, according to a report by non-profit research group Corporate Europe Observatory and Corporate Accountability.
This is a roll back from COP26 held in Glasgow last year, where fossil fuel companies were barred from being sponsors — though they were heavily represented and comprised the largest delegation.
Further, this year’s event at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh saw the participation of 636 fossil fuel lobbyists who were granted access to the talks, a 25 per cent increase from COP26.
The Egypt summit was also heavily criticised for allowing Coke as sponsor — the soft-drink giant has been crowned the world’s largest plastic polluter five years in a row.
Can COPs keep out fossil-fuel sponsors?
The UN event has three degrees of sponsorship – main partners, partners, and supporters. COP27’s main partners included major global players Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Vodafone and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Last year, the UK ‘kept out’ the world’s biggest polluters, including Shell and BP even though they reportedly offered money to the government in return for exposure at the event. BCG, however, was a sponsor in Glasgow as well.
But no such grandstanding attempts were made in Egypt, a nation that relies heavily on oil and natural gas.
The final agreement reached at COP27 was reflective of this, with reports saying that Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Egypt, and other petrostates played a role in preserving the influence of fossil fuels at Sharm el-Sheikh.
COP27’s main partners are connected with the industry in various ways. Microsoft is the oil and gas industry’s biggest tech aide, helping it optimise fossil fuel extractivism. Its net-zero by 2050 pledges rely on offsets and tech-fixes, not on any sort of elimination, a report says.
BCG works closely with Shell, the oil company which was famously denied sponsorship at COP26 over oil and gas companies’ suspect claims of achieving net-zero emissions. Last year as well, BCG’s involvement raised questions over the ethical stand the UK government had taken on fossil fuels.
Another sponsor, African Export-Import Bank, known as Afrexmibank struck a deal earlier this year for the creation of a multi-billion dollar energy bank that aims to finance existing and new oil and gas projects.
The exploitation of African natural gas was a topic of discussion at COP27, as German and Italian companies, among other European nations, race to find alternatives to Russian gas in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The expansion of European nations into African gas reserves is said to threaten the continent’s transition to clean energy. There are fears that “new projects will lock Africa into long-term dependence on fossil fuels”.
Egyptian conglomerate Mansour, helmed by billionaire Mohamed Mansour, is a self-professed oil and gas supporter which has been selling drilling equipment “for decades”.
They “aim to take a more proactive role in this lucrative field”. In a crystal clear example of greenwashing, EgyptAir, a major sponsor, launched its first “climate friendly” flight in January, which consisted of reducing the amount of single-use plastics on air, as opposed to tackling emissions.
Other global sponsors include IBM, Siemens, and Cisco. IBM has entered into a questionable offsetting tactic that consists of storing carbon in soil. International non-profit GRAIN has referred to this “as a smokescreen for the emissions of big oil, food and tech corporations.” German company Siemens “operates and maintains one of the world’s largest gas-fired power plants in Egypt”, which was built in 2018 by fellow sponsor Orascom Construction, states the research.
Influence of fossil fuels on COP28
Next year’s Conference of the Parties will be hosted by the UAE in Dubai’s expo-city from 30 November to 12 December. Mashreq, UAE’s oldest private bank, was a COP27 supporter.
It assists multinationals in refinancing their oil and gas facilities. The company is also pushing for greater liquified natural gas (LNG) consumption, which while being the cleanest fossil fuel, still goes against demands for the phase-out of all fossil fuels that was made this year by India, Pakistan and other countries defined as ‘developing economies’ according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The inclusion of Mashreq can be seen as part of UAE’s keenness to demonstrate itself as a leading global partner on environmental issues, despite being a petrostate. “By virtue of our geology, the oil and gas we have in the UAE is among the least carbon-intensive in the world. Nevertheless, we will continue to work towards reducing carbon emissions in the sector,” said President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at leaders’ plenary session in Sharm el-Sheikh. The UAE’s latest energy strategy will raise its oil barrel production capacity to 5 billion barrels per day by 2030.
The country has declared its intention of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. At least 30% of its GDP directly comes from oil and gas, with much of the remaining amount coming from industries heavily linked to fossil fuel consumption, such as airlines, tourism or construction, says The Guardian.
Essentially, gas and oil companies will remain key characters at next year’s talks, bringing about a conflict of interest, particularly since this year, numerous climate-vulnerable countries advocated for the Fossil-Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty.
“The Emirates is a country with some of the world’s largest oil reserves, with a desire to continue to expand and enhance fossil fuel production. There will be an effort to illustrate their engagement in renewables, particularly solar and nuclear, but there are questions to be asked about how you can engage in such conflicting actions,” said Mathew Hedges, a UAE political economy expert.
“This is a very bad sign for what’s to come. But let’s be upfront, the fossil fuel industry has been sponsoring the COPs for decades. It’s nothing new. The same happened with coal in Poland, but now it’s all about gas,” Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory, told ThePrint.
At COP26, hours after signing the COP26 Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, Poland had backtracked, saying it intended to phase out coal only by 2049, 19 years after what it promised by signing the deal.
The UNFCCC talks have long been criticised for what appears to be their acquiescence of fossil fuels. The mitigation of emissions through the complete phasing out of fossil fuels is pivotal to limiting global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as per the Paris Agreement.
After much drama, this year’s conference concluded with the setting up of the Loss and Damage Fund, but with small progress on the phasing out of fossil fuels.
This is a step back from last year. The deal agreed at COP27 calls on countries to take steps towards “the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, a “watered-down” phrasing of what is stated in the Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP) – the first time the term “fossil fuels” was mentioned in any COP declaration.
Sponsorships by fossil fuel companies are part of an ongoing quest to gain social legitimacy, through the bankrolling of “welfare projects”. This is a pattern that can be observed in the funding of arts and education around the world.
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