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COP27 awash with fossil fuel representatives, research shows

A taxi drives past towers of flowers on Thursday outside the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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At least 636 representatives of the fossil fuel industry registered to attend the ongoing COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, a sharp increase over the industry’s already massive presence last year, according to an analysis released Wednesday by three advocacy groups.

That number means the industry presence once again tops the number of representatives from any single national delegation, except that of the United Arab Emirates — a major fossil fuel-producing nation that is set to host next year’s COP conference. The UAE has registered 1,070 delegates, 70 of whom were classified as industry representatives in the report.

The groups behind the report — Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory and Global Witness — said in a joint statement that their analysis showed that industry influence at the top climate summit was growing, even as global policymakers tried to mitigate the impact of the industry. Many fossil fuel companies argue that they must be part of the solution to climate change, setting net-zero emissions targets and publicizing emissions-reducing programs. Activists say the industry only gets in the way of necessary policy changes.

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“Tobacco lobbyists wouldn’t be welcome at health conferences, arms dealers can’t promote their trade at peace conventions,” the statement said. “Those perpetuating the world’s fossil fuel addiction should not be allowed through the doors of a climate conference.”

Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability, told the BBC it made the event look like a “fossil fuel industry trade show” and that the industry’s motivation was “profit and greed.”

The COP summits, at which major global agreements including the Kyoto Protocol have been hashed out, are often enormous in scale. It’s been estimated that almost 35,000 people will have attended this year’s, at Sharm el-Sheikh, a Red Sea resort city. The groups that tracked the fossil fuel industry presence at the event looked at an official list of delegates, which includes attendees from governments, U.N. bodies, intergovernmental organizations and the media.

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Any attendees who had self-declared ties to either a fossil fuel company, an organization with fossil fuel interests, or any foundation directly associated by ownership or control with a fossil fuel company was considered an industry representative for the purpose of the count, according to a description of the methodology used by the groups.

Last year, an analysis from Global Witness found that 503 people linked to the fossil fuel industry had been listed as delegates for COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland. In response, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that she was “not comfortable with having some of the world’s biggest villains influencing & dictating the fate of the world.”

The number of delegates from the industry has increased by some 25 percent year on year, according to the new analysis.

This year’s event had been dubbed the “African COP” by organizers and participants. But some activists said that the large presence of industry figures could only undermine that aim.

“How are you going to address the dire climate impacts on the continent, when the fossil fuel delegation is larger than that of any African country?” said Philip Jakpor, director of programs at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa.