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Planet for Sale? Record 2,500 Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Descend on COP28 U.N. Climate Summit in Dubai

StoryDecember 05, 2023
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Image Credit: Anthony Fleyhan/COP28

This year, there are at least 2,456 lobbyists at COP28, the U.N. climate summit in Dubai — nearly four times as many as last year — from companies like Shell, Total and ExxonMobil. The lobbyists outnumber the delegations of every country other than Brazil and the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting the summit, presided over by the CEO of the UAE’s national oil company, Sultan Al Jaber. “It’s definitely impossible to ignore how front and center the fossil fuel influence is at this particular COP,” says Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability, who says the climate summit must kick out big polluters and “reset the system so that it can finally end fossil fuels and advance real solutions and save millions of lives that don’t need to be lost.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from COP28, the U.N. climate summit here in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where a record 2,500 lobbyists are registered to attend this year, nearly four times as many as last year. They’re from companies like Shell, Total and ExxonMobil. They outnumber the delegations of every country except Brazil, which is set to host the summit in 2025, and this year’s host, the United Arab Emirates delegation. The summit is presided over by the CEO of the UAE’s national oil company, Sultan Al Jaber, who has said there’s “no science” behind demands for the phaseout of fossil fuels to address the climate crisis.

Earlier this week, activists addressed the massive number of lobbyists at the COP during a side event. This is Eric Njuguna from Kenya with Fridays for Future MAPA, Brenna TwoBears with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Drue Slatter, a Pacific Climate Warrior from Fiji, but first David Tong with Oil Change International.

DAVID TONG: You wouldn’t invite arms dealers to a peace conference. And the oil lobbyists here at the climate conference must not stop this conference from succeeding in delivering a phaseout of fossil fuels.

ERIC NJUGUNA: The presence of the fossil fuel industry to its climate negotiations shows the moral bankruptcy of the fossil fuel industry.

BRENNA TWOBEARS: Fossil fuel lobbyists should not be here. They weave a web of greed and sacrifice zones, like the Dakota Access pipeline. They have received over $3 billion from Bank of America, which is the same bank that’s also interested in the Energy Transition Accelerator, an “ambitious” initiative that was announced by the U.S. climate envoy a few days ago. We will not stand by while these false solutions are heralded as the solution to the climate crisis. There is only one solution to the climate crisis: decolonization and an Indigenous just transition away from systems of extraction.

DRUE SLATTER: Before this press conference, I was speaking briefly with a few other Pacific Climate Warriors about the sheer number of fossil fuel lobbyists present here. And a well-known Pacific Climate Warrior, Brianna Fruean, spoke to us about it, and she said it’s because they’re scared. There’s more of them here because they know that the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. It must come to an end. The people have spoken. The science has spoken. All that’s left is to ensure that these processes no longer allow them in the room, so that our negotiators, our leaders can take the necessary steps to keep us below 1.5 degrees of heating.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice you just heard was Drue Slatter, Pacific Climate Warrior from Fiji.

For more, we’re joined by Rachel Rose Jackson. She moderated that event here at the U.N. climate summit. She’s director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability, part of the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition that just released their report, “Record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP28.”

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: Thank you so much for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’ve just been talking about Gaza and what’s happening there. And I’m wondering if you can talk about the Israeli bombardment of Gaza — at this point nearly 16,000 people are dead — the connection, if you will, between that and lobbyists here at the U.N. climate summit.

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: So, when it comes to the systemic injustices in the world, we can’t look at these things in a vacuum. We have to zoom out and look at them globally. And when we do that, we can see very clearly that the same geopolitical powers, political elite and even abusive corporations who are responsible for burning fossil fuels, delaying action, and fueling the climate crisis, on one hand, are the same political elite and abusive corporations who are responsible for standing by and even enabling the genocide that’s playing out in Gaza. And when it comes to genocide, there isn’t a side. There’s only the 16,000, and counting, lives that have been lost, without any justification.

And it’s the same thing with the climate crisis. There is no justification for the millions of lives that have already been lost and impacted simply because of the greed of polluters and Global North governments, who have enabled this crisis to happen. So, these systemic injustices, they don’t happen in a vacuum, and they also have the same source. That also means they have the same solutions. And there is, you know, no climate justice without human rights. And there’s also no climate justice on occupied land. So, everything that we’re seeing here is so relevant to everything that’s playing out in Gaza and in other places where genocide is happening around the world. It’s the same problem, and we need to hold the same people to account.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, Rachel, when we asked people about the lobbyists who are here, everyone said, “You have to talk to Rachel Rose Jackson.” So, talk about this report that you came out with, how you figured out that there were thousands of lobbyists here. It was very interesting to hear David Tong, when asked about lobbyists: “Why can’t they be here like anyone else?” And he said, “If you were holding a peace conference, would you invite arms manufacturers to it?”

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: I mean, it’s exactly that. And I don’t think it’s just me. You know, this whole coalition, Kick Big Polluters Out, we’re 450 organizations and networks around the world, representing millions of people who are all united in challenging what’s happening here in these halls and demanding an end of fossil fuel lobbyists and big polluters to write the rules of climate action. It’s the same thing that — you know, as David Tong said, if your house is burning down, if it’s on fire, do you hand the hose to the arsonist? No. But that’s exactly what’s happening here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the number of lobbyists, nearly 2,500, we said at the beginning it’s equal — it’s larger than any delegation here, except the host now, the UAE — they have something like 3,000 — and the host, gonna be in two years, Brazil.

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: Exactly. And not only that, but there’s a record-breaking number of fossil fuel lobbyists who are here at this talk. Last year in Sharm el-Sheikh, there were around 630 known fossil fuel lobbyists; the year before that, 500. So, this year, there’s a four-times increase in the number of fossil fuel lobbyists here promoting a deadly fossil fuel agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s related to who is president of the COP, of the U.N. climate summit, the Sultan Al Jaber?

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: It’s definitely —

AMY GOODMAN: Who is head of one of the largest oil companies in the world, ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company?

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: It’s definitely impossible to ignore how front and center the fossil fuel influence is at this particular COP. I mean, as you just said, it travels all the way up to the highest levels. But this problem is as old as these climate talks are. You know, from the very inception, there have been no measures to protect these talks from fossil fuel industry influence.

AMY GOODMAN: How do fossil fuel lobbyists affect the talks? Where are they allowed in? Where aren’t they?

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: They’re allowed everywhere. They’re allowed right behind us, where we are. But more than that, they’re allowed even in places where civil society doesn’t have access to. These fossil fuel lobbyists are often given country delegation badges, so these pink badges you might see some people wearing. And that gets them into rooms that I and even you could never get into. It gives them direct access to the literal ears of the decision-makers who are writing the rules of climate action. It gives them a seat at the head of the table. And it doesn’t even stop there. They’re also literally bankrolling these climate talks. They’re paying for these talks to happen. They’re signing the checks. They’re signing the dotted line of the outcomes that come out of these talks. So their fingerprints are all over what’s happening here.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Brenna TwoBears. You had this side panel this week that was really interesting. Brenna is Diné, Brenna TwoBears, from the United States. She’s with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

BRENNA TWOBEARS: [speaking Ho-Chunk] We are here today to address the climate crisis. So, why was there twice as many fossil fuel lobbyists at COP26 than Indigenous delegates? Why are we, as Indigenous people, only allowed to have an observer status, but fossil fuel lobbyists are allowed to have direct access to parties? The more lobbyists that are here, the higher our emissions rise.

And in a report released by the Center for Biological Diversity last month, the Biden administration has approved 17 massive fossil fuel projects, estimated to release the same amount of emissions as 440 coal-fired power plants. The reason why this is so important is because for those of us who grew up on the Navajo rez, for those of us who didn’t have paved roads in our homes, who didn’t have running water or access to electricity, but we had these coal-fired power plants in our backyard, that number is preposterous. It’s awful. And it breaks our hearts.

I used to haul water to my grandfather’s house. That same clean access to drinkable water would have been available to him if it hadn’t been taken from the Navajo aquifer, which is one of the most pristine sources of groundwater in the world. It transported to the Black Mesa coal mine in order to slurry coal to the Navajo generating station. Not only was it wasting so much water, about 4,400 acre — feet of groundwater a year since 1971, but it wasn’t going to any of the communities that were on the Navajo reservation.

Thankfully, because of the grassroots movement from the Hopi and the Diné who are out there in Arizona and the Southwest area of the United States, we were able to shut down the Black Mesa coal mine in 2019, and we were able to stop the use of that Navajo generating station being able to slurry that coal in 2001.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Brenna TwoBears with the Indigenous Environmental Network. And this is Pacific Climate Warrior Drue Slatter speaking at the side event here at the U.N. COP summit on Monday.

DRUE SLATTER: We need to remove fossil fuel lobbyists from climate negotiations, if the Pacific is to have a shot at survival. And that shot, it is possible. It often feels like it’s not, but it is possible. We can achieve a phaseout of fossil fuels. We can achieve 100% renewable energy. We can achieve a fair and efficient finance package for the energy transition in the Pacific. But the obscene number of big polluters at these climate negotiations threatens that. In Glasgow, fossil fuel lobbyists outnumbered Pacific delegates 12 to one. If I’m not wrong, last year the number rose to 15 to one. And the number this year is expected to be even higher.

AMY GOODMAN: Drue Slatter, Pacific Climate Warrior from Fiji. Our guest is Rachel Rose Jackson, who pulled everyone together to talk about the detrimental effect of the lobbyists here at the U.N. climate summit. In fact, right behind me, you may hear the noise getting higher and higher. People are lining up because Sultan Al Jaber is just about to hold a news conference, or at least to speak. Rachel?

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: Yeah, he is. And, you know, as I alluded to earlier, it’s for sure fair to say that the fossil fuel influence could not be more obvious at these talks. But we have to remember that these talks have been coopted to serve the fossil fuel agenda since they began. There have been no measures since day one to protect these talks to ensure that they deliver the action that people and the planet deserve. You know, whether the COP was in Poland, the coal capital of the world, or the United States, the world’s largest historical emitter of fossil fuels and, I might add, the world largest obstructor at these talks from a government perspective, these COPs are infested with fossil fuel influence.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a specialist on pushing tobacco on the world. Now you’re talking about climate. What is the model that was used? We just have about 30 seconds.

RACHEL ROSE JACKSON: It’s important to understand that the U.N. climate talks are the exception, not the norm. Other U.N. bodies, institutions around the world, they all begin with making sure that there is insulation from keeping the source of the problem out of solving the problem. That’s happened with the U.N. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as you mentioned, but it has never happened here. So, now we are so far into the process, we are running out of time. We must kick big polluters out. We must end their ability to write the rules of climate action. We must end their ability to bankroll these climate talks, and reset the system so that it can finally end fossil fuels and advance real solutions and save millions of lives that don’t need to be lost.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Rachel Rose Jackson, we thank you so much for being with us, director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability, and the Kick Big Polluters Out coalition released their report, “Record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP28.” We’ll link to your report.

A special happy birthday to Igor Moreno! I’m Amy Goodman.

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UAE Oil CEO Sultan Al Jaber Uses His Role as U.N. Climate Summit President to Push Fossil Fuel Deals

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