Environmentalists bash pick of oil executive as climate confab chief

Environmentalists are angry that a fossil fuel executive has been selected to lead COP 28, the next global conference on the looming climate catastrophe.

European Parliament Member Manon Aubry and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) released a transatlantic sign-on letter calling for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to address persistent fossil fuel industry interference.

Addressed to US President Biden, President of the European Commission Ursula von Der Leyen, UN Executive Secretary Simon Stiell, and Secretary General António Guterres, the letter asks world leaders and UN institutions alike to advance accountability measures to safeguard UNFCCC from industry interference, beginning with the removal of an oil executive as the president of forthcoming talks.

The effort reinforces calls from a global network of more than 450 organizations, representing millions of people, that is demanding polluters be kicked out of climate talks as a critical means of assuring ambitious action in 2023.

The letter, which has garnered 130 signatures across both sides of the Atlantic, was delivered as countries prepare for the next round of climate talks in Bonn this June.

Not only are Bonn talks where the agenda for COP 28 is shaped, they may present a critical opportunity to set policy addressing corporate capture of the UNFCCC. Recent talks have been deluged by fossil fuel industry lobbyists. COP sponsorship by major polluters has cast a further pall on proceedings. And brazen conflicts of interest have gone unaddressed.

“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, expanding on the intention behind the letter. “We must prevent private commercial interests from interfering in politics and regain ownership of our future.”

Whitehouse highlighted the urgency and timeliness of the effort as we approach COP 28, “COPs offer the largest and most important venue to find international agreement on ways to solve the climate crisis. Companies participating should be required to file audited climate political footprint statements to ensure transparency at the world’s major forum for leading the planet to safety in the race against climate change.”

“Naming oil boss Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber as head of the global climate conference marks a new level of audacity by the fossil lobby that eviscerates the credibility of the global climate protection effort,” said New Jersey environmentalist Lisa McCormick.

The letter calls for a suite of measures to ensure that “climate science takes precedence over climate delay and greenwashing.”

It recommends fossil-fuel-free leadership of the talks and procedures to advance broader accountability measures that “limit the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists in the UNFCCC decision-making process.”

“Globally, Big Polluters like Shell and TotalEnergies have spent the last 50 years lobbying against meaningful climate action. These upcoming UN 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,” said Pascoe Sabido, co-coordinator for Kick Big Polluters Out. “So far the US and EU have proven to be major blockers, siding with the fossil fuel industry. 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 UN but also at home.”

As it has historically, fossil fuel industry interference will loom large in almost every aspect of June and November talks. The industry’s denial, deception, and delay will be at topic in Bonn’s stocktake on the failures of global climate commitments to date.

The extent to which the Bonn agenda centers unproven, risky, and largely ineffectual industry-backed schemes like carbon markets over critical interventions like halting new fossil fuel development will owe to the industry’s politicking.

And even the hashing out of the details around a global loss and damage fund could be stunted by fossil fuel interests concerned about the precedent it could set for them in paying for their historic pollution.

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