The ongoing campaign to oust Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber from his role as president-designate of COP28 picked up steam Tuesday when more than 130 lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic published a letter calling for the oil boss to be replaced as chair of the annual United Nations climate summit, set to take place this fall in the United Arab Emirates.
The host nation's move "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," says the letter signed by 133 members of the United States Congress and the European Parliament.
"For billions of people, the outcome of COP28 and ensuing international climate negotiations will make the difference between life and death, chaos and solidarity."
"Different leadership is necessary to help ensure that COP28 is a serious and productive climate summit," the transatlantic group of policymakers told U.S. President Joe Biden, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, and Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Notably, Biden's top climate diplomat, John Kerry, has faced criticism for celebrating al-Jaber's selection. More than two dozen progressive members of Congress have pushed Kerry to advocate for the designation of a new COP28 president who doesn't have ties to the industry most responsible for fueling the climate emergency.
In addition to urging the four addressees of the new letter to "engage in diplomatic efforts" to pressure the UAE to withdraw its appointment of al-Jaber—head of the country's Abu Dhabi National Oil Company—as president-designate of COP28, signatories implored the executive leaders of the U.S. and the European Union as well as UNFCCC leadership 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 all U.N. climate talks.
"Current rules," the lawmakers wrote, "permit private sector polluters to exert undue influence on UNFCCC processes." They continued:
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.
The demand to crack down on corporations' open corruption of international climate meetings comes as government representatives prepare to gather in Germany next month for the U.N.'s Bonn Climate Change Conference—a crucial precursor to COP28, which is scheduled to begin in late November in Dubai.
"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," says the letter. It was endorsed by Kick Big Polluters Out, a global network of more than 450 organizations led by Corporate Accountability and Corporate Europe Observatory, which made a similar appeal to Guterres in January.
"Big Oil interests have contaminated our climate for decades—they shouldn't be able to control our climate negotiations for a livable future," U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "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." Markey was one of six Senate Democrats to sign the letter. He was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 27 House Democrats, and 99 European MPs.
The ongoing failure to confront the fossil fuel industry and other highly polluting sectors has yielded life-threatening results so far, as the lawmakers explained in their letter:
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.
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," the lawmakers wrote. "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."
"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," they continued. "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."
"The fossil industry must give way if there is to be any chance of survival for humanity and this planet."
"Even more outrageous, the global oil and gas industry is expanding amid blockbuster profits to the tune of $4 trillion last year," they added. "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 U.N. Secretary-General António 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."
E.U. lawmaker Manon Aubrey, who co-organized the letter alongside her U.S. counterpart, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), said that "for billions of people, the outcome of COP28 and ensuing international climate negotiations will make the difference between life and death, chaos and solidarity."
"Corporate greed and lobbyists' lies have led us into this climate crisis," said Aubrey. "We must prevent private commercial interests from interfering in politics and regain ownership of our future."
Aubrey's colleague, Michael Bloss, likewise stressed that "to make progress on climate protection, we need to limit the power of the fossil lobby."
"Instead of letting the fox guard the henhouse, the fossil lobby must be expelled from the conference," said Bloss. "Oil states and fossil industries have always prevented anything that could mean an end to coal, oil, and gas, and put the brakes on global climate protection for destructive profits. The fossil industry must give way if there is to be any chance of survival for humanity and this planet."
Pascoe Sabido, co-coordinator for Kick Big Polluters Out, said that "these upcoming U.N. climate talks are our best chance at tackling the problem head-on, with hundreds of decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the aisle backing our call for a conflict-of-interest policy."
"So far, the U.S. and E.U. have proven to be major blockers, siding with the fossil fuel industry," Sabido added. "If they want to walk the talk of being a climate leader, it's time to switch sides and back a policy not just at the U.N. but also at home."