The prize for largest delegation went to the fossil fuel industry, which, as a whole, sent more delegates than any single country, according to the advocacy group Global Witness.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg was not impressed. The Swedish teen tweeted, “I don’t know about you, but I sure am not comfortable with having some of the world’s biggest villains influencing & dictating the fate of the world.”
Conference arithmetic can be difficult. Almost 40,000 delegates registered for COP26 in Glasgow, making it the biggest COP in history, though the list doesn’t say how many actually showed up. And while Brazil sent 479 delegates to Glasgow, the largest team of negotiators at the summit, Global Witness and others analyzed a provisional delegate list published by the United Nations and found that 503 people linked, directly and indirectly, to the fossil fuel industry have been accredited for COP26.
This is larger than the combined total of delegates from Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines, Mozambique, the Bahamas, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the regions and countries worst affected by climate change, the group said.
The United States sent 165 delegates, including former president Barack Obama, who was attending events on Monday. The United Kingdom sent 230.
Murray Worthy, the gas campaign leader at Global Witness, said the “presence of hundreds of those being paid to push the toxic interests of polluting fossil fuel companies will only increase the skepticism of climate activists who see these talks as more evidence of global leaders’ dithering and delaying.”
The group said its analysis found that some of the delegates with links to fossil fuel interests were parts of official country designations from Canada, Russia and Brazil. The researchers said that over 100 fossil fuel companies were represented at COP26, including Royal Dutch Shell, Gazprom and BP, as well as 30 trade associations and membership organizations.
Last month, Royal Dutch Shell announced that it wouldn’t be attending the summit.
“We were told that we were not welcome, so we will not be there,” said Ben van Beurden, the company’s chief executive, when answering questions on its third quarter earnings results.
His remarks came after he was confronted at a pre-COP26 event in Edinburgh by activists who walked on stage during his speech and said that Shell had no place speaking at the event.
Shell on Monday said that the company didn’t send any executive-level people, and that it didn’t sponsor a pavilion or host any events. The company did have a few climate specialists who were attending events at the margins of the conference.
According to the U.N. list, Shell sent six people and BP sent seven. Shell’s slate included a vice president for carbon capture, utilization and storage, and the head of climate policy and advocacy.
Van Beurden’s well-publicized comments sparked a debate about the role of fossil fuel companies in tackling climate change and the extent to which they should be included in climate talks.
Big oil and gas firms were effectively banned from sponsoring events at COP26 after organizers laid out their criteria. Sponsors had to not only set net-zero targets, which Shell and BP have done, they also had to show a “credible action plan to achieve this, independently verified through the science-based targets initiative.”
Some of those identified as fossil fuel lobbyists rejected claims that their presence would obstruct talks, arguing that they are working on finding market-based ways to reduce emissions. The biggest bloc identified by Global Witness was from the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), which promotes markets for trading credits. They have 103 delegates in attendance.
Dirk Forrister, chief executive of IETA, said that about 25 percent of the delegates at COP were from energy and industrial sectors, like oil and gas, mining, chemical and electricity industries. The rest were people from “other parts of the carbon-market universe,” such as those working in finance.
He said most of his members have made net-zero pledges and that the companies were “working on transforming their businesses to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.”
“We support the whole ethos of the Paris agreement; it’s based on inclusivity,” he said. “There are many areas where business, government and NGOs are expected to work together to achieve the Paris ambition. We think cooperation is essential to get the result we want.”
Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for BP, said in an email that chief executive Bernard Looney opted not to travel to Glasgow because he didn’t want to become “a distraction from the important work going on at COP — although he honored a commitment by virtually participating in a panel discussion with Mary Robinson on the need for a Just Transition.”
Morrell said that a “handful” of BP colleagues were “invited to participate in events around COP, including the person leading our efforts to build Britain’s largest net zero industrial park. That is the extent of our involvement this year. No sponsorships. No hosting. No input.”
He added: “That’s unfortunate because in order to solve this monumental challenge you need [to] go where the emissions are and encourage those companies to green themselves — just as we are.”
Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said “to be frank I have not been seeing many from the fossil fuel industry.” She said that while “it’s shocking that there is such a large number here and there are probably a number of discussions going on behind closed doors or in private spaces, you’re not actually seeing it or feeling it here.”