The UK organisers of the upcoming COP26 climate summit have come under fire for approving just two events that refer to fossil fuels, the primary driver of climate change, in a programme of public events happening alongside the main conference.
The government-managed “Green Zone”, set to take place in the Glasgow Science Centre, will feature talks, films and performances, separate from the “Blue Zone” that will host the official United Nations negotiations.
The UK’s official COP26 website says the events by civil society, business and academia will present attendees with “amazing opportunities to listen, learn and celebrate climate action” throughout the November conference in Glasgow.
But just two of the 203 events listed make any reference to fossil fuels, which the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says are the dominant cause of global warming. In 2018, 89 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions came from fossil fuels and industry.
The omission risks focus on the urgent need to keep oil, gas and coal in the ground being lost, campaigners warn.
“The role of the fossil fuel industry in driving climate change, and distorting politics in their favour, deserves rigorous and sustained scrutiny from the public and governments alike,” Sam Chetan Welsh, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said.
“Countries need to ban new fossil fuel projects, urgently shift away from fossil fuels and turn towards using renewable energy. They must do so in a way that gives coal, oil and gas workers opportunities to retrain and access green jobs in sustainable sectors.
“And we need to be having many more conversations about climate justice and supporting lower income countries to protect themselves from climate impacts.”
The sole events on fossil fuels are one by campaign group Insure Our Future on “climate leaders or climate laggards”, and another organised by WWF’s European Policy Office and CEE Bankwatch on the transition from coal and the challenges of a “just transition”.
While the programme features diverse events, including ones featuring Indigenous organisations, talks on climate justice and gender equality, it also features events by several of the summit’s corporate sponsors, including Sainsbury’s, SSE, Scottish Power, Hitachi and NatWest Group “to showcase their commitment to fighting climate change”.
Scott Tully of campaign group Glasgow Calls Out Polluters said: “The UK government, during our interactions, have been unwilling and afraid to confront the power of big polluters at the heart of the climate crisis.
“Excluding serious discussion around fossil fuels follows this approach, because that sidelines any troublesome discussion around big polluters like BP and Shell – who have close ties with the UK government.”
The group Culture Unstained, which opposes oil sponsorship of the arts, revealed last year how Equinor, Shell and BP had set up informal meetings with civil servants and government ministers including Andrea Leadsom, Kwasi Karteng and Alok Sharma to discuss their place at the climate talks, but their requests were ultimately rejected.
The choice of COP26 sponsors has previously come under criticism, with campaign groups calling for SSE to be dropped as a sponsor. The energy company’s Peterhead gas power plant was the biggest polluter in Scotland as of 2019, emitting 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide during the year.
“There are some exciting-looking events in the Green Zone, but the sheer number of corporate-friendly sideshows sends the wrong message,” continued Tully.
“We should not accept any corporate diversions at the UN Climate talks but we should definitely be talking about dismantling the fossil fuel industry.”
A COP26 spokesperson said the UK was “committed to hosting an inclusive COP, recognising the importance of showcasing our partners from across the UK, including young people, indigenous leaders, businesses, grassroots communities and those on the frontline of climate change”.
They added: “COP26 is also a fantastic opportunity to showcase the best available clean technologies for a global energy transition. We have seen a huge level of interest for participation within the UK managed spaces at COP26. Due to the large number of proposals submitted not all applicants were successful.”
The spokesperson added that the programme of events for the “Blue Zone” within the UN-certified area would be released in the coming weeks.