GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — The former president of the COP26 climate talks has brought a delegation including four oil companies and tobacco giant Philip Morris to the summit currently taking place in Glasgow, Scotland.
Former UK energy and climate minister Claire O’Neill’s World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is running a series of events at the conference on private sector efforts to tackle climate change.
Among its delegates are representatives of European fossil fuel giants Shell, BP, Equinor and TotalEnergies, none of which have made plans to halt new drilling projects despite commitments to reach net zero and increase clean energy production.
Campaigners said the news demonstrated a “classic case of the revolving door” between “big polluters” and governments.
O’Neill was appointed president-delegate of the UK-hosted summit in 2019 but was sacked months later, replaced by Alok Sharma. O’Neill gave an interview to Radio 4 at the time claiming prime minister Boris Johnson didn’t “really get” climate change.
O’Neill is managing director for climate and energy at the WBCSD, which is hosting multiple panel discussions throughout the two-week conference. She is not listed in the group’s delegation but has been chairing events.
At an event on Wednesday launching the group’s “Business Manifesto for Climate Recovery”, Giulia Cherchia, executive vice president for strategy and sustainability at UK oil company BP and a member of WBCSD delegation, called for more “inclusiveness” for business at future COPs.
On Thursday, the CEO of biomass firm Drax took part in a panel on transitioning away from coal-fired power as part of the summit’s themed “energy day”.
The British company is coming under increasing pressure from campaigners and experts for claiming to be a “carbon neutral” renewable energy company, despite research finding its North Yorkshire power station to be the UK’s largest single source of emissions.
WBCSD’s delegation includes Etienne Angles-D’Auriac, vice president of strategy at French oil giant TotalEnergies’ exploration and production division; Al Cook, executive vice president at Norway’s Equinor, and Alex Nevill, general manager for nature based solutions at Anglo-Dutch major Shell.
Executives at US engineering company Bechtel, which is heavily involved in the oil and gas industry, German chemicals company Bayer, carmaker BMW and American agribusiness giant Cargill, are also among those listed.
They sit alongside companies with a greener reputation, such as the Body Shop.
O’Neill’s reputation on climate change from her time in government is mixed. Although she helped secure the UK’s hosting of the COP26 summit and launched a growing alliance of countries phasing out coal-fired power generation, campaigners say they view her as having always been close to industry.
And an investigation by Greenpeace’s investigative unit Unearthed last year revealed she had met with oil companies to encourage further North Sea exploration, in line with UK government policy.
In addition to her role at WBCSD, O’Neill was cleared to join the firm FTI Consulting as a senior adviser in the summer, despite the government body that approves such appointments warning that her insider knowledge of energy policy “could be perceived to offer an unfair advantage” to FTI and its clients.
The business consultancy is known for having run “astroturf” campaigns for fossil fuel companies and monitored environmental activists on behalf of a US oil company.
Scott Tully from the campaign group Glasgow Calls Out Polluters called the news of WBCSD’s delegation “100% wrong”.
“While it feels like a terrible joke, this demonstrates a great example of the revolving door used by malign, big polluters to get access to government. The COP organisers have no excuse to avoid taking action against vested interests. The time for appeasement has passed: it’s time to kick them out of the talks and make them pay for the damages they have caused.”
Pascoe Sabido, a researcher at watchdog the Corporate Europe Observatory, described it as a “classic case of the revolving door”.
“This is what happens when former government officials use their years of experience and access in the private sector. O’Neill is now bringing the companies most responsible for climate change into the talks and providing them with a chance to present themselves as a solution to the problem.”
“There is an irreconcilable difference between what these companies are trying to achieve and what we’re trying to achieve in the talks,” he said, pointing to the fossil fuel industry’s expansion of gas, not simply as a “bridge fuel” to cleaner energy sources but also a “destination fuel” by relying on disputed technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The UNFCCC, the UN body responsible for organising the annual summit and providing accreditation to delegates, did not respond when contacted.
A UK COP26 spokesperson said the presidency was “working most closely with organisations that are committed to taking real, positive action and have strong climate credentials.
“As part of this, all our sponsors have met the robust sponsorship criteria, which includes making net zero commitments with a credible action plan to achieve this, independently verified through the science-based targets initiative.”
The WBCSD and O’Neill have been contacted for comment.