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The Fossil Fuel Industry Is Quietly Undermining Global Climate Talks

Luke McGrath

(Bloomberg) -- Fossil fuel industry giants such as ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell are maintaining an outsized presence at global climate discussions, working to undermine scientific consensus and slow policy progress, according to findings released Wednesday by an environmental monitoring organization.

The Climate Investigations Center (CIC) report claims that fossil fuel trade associations have sent more than 6,400 delegates to climate talks since 1995, including delegates from Shell, BP and ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil declined to comment. Royal Dutch Shell and BP did not respond to requests for comment.

The CIC’s findings add to an April report that accused the Global Climate Coalition, a fossil fuel-funded industry group, of working to discredit the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and derail the Kyoto Protocol. Though the GCC disbanded in 2001, its members have continued to attend events representing different organizations, CIC data showed. 

Former GCC members have attended events representing organizations that include the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (Wbscd). Since 2002, the two groups alone have combined to send 2,673 delegates, according to CIC data. ExxonMobil, Shell and BP all belong to at least one of the groups, according to the trade groups’ websites. The companies have collectively contributed 5.2% of global industrial greenhouse gasses from 1988-2015, according to the CDP’s Carbon Majors Database.

“While the GCC is gone, its influence may not be,” said Jesse Bragg, media director at Corporate Accountability, a global activist organization. The new report “connects the dots and bolsters the case for why governments need to actually take a look at the influence of fossil fuel trade associations at the international level,” he said.

The presence of the fossil fuel industry is, of course, required at such gatherings. Without their cooperation, it would be impossible to implement the large-scale changes needed to combat climate change. But there is a fine line between participation and obstruction. Activists say getting global organizations such as the UN to reconsider how fossil fuel representatives are allowed to participate in the process has been difficult. “They not only do not want a policy, they don’t even want a record of them talking about it,” Bragg said. “That’s been one of the primary obstacles to getting this addressed in the first place.”

IETA Chief Executive Officer Dirk Forrister said the trade association does not do any negotiating. "We abide by a Code of Conduct that supports the UNFCCC’s goals and respects the different points of view of the many stakeholders,” Forrister told Bloomberg in an e-mail.

The Wbcsd did not respond to a request for comment.

“The legacy of fossil fuel corporate impact on the Unfccc process and the IPCC is both invisible and impossible to forget,” said CIC Director Kert Davies in a statement. “Fossil fuel interests have tried from the very beginning to undermine and infiltrate this difficult global agreement to make sure that it failed or faltered at each step. As they win, the planet loses.”

To contact the author of this story: Luke McGrath in New York at lmcgrath18@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Petri at jpetri4@bloomberg.net

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