COP27 fossil fuel lobbyists criticised amid Africa energy debate

Climate activists demonstrate at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt against the presence of fossil-fuel industry representatives at the talks, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 10, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

Climate activists demonstrate at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt against the presence of fossil-fuel industry representatives at the talks, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 10, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

What’s the context?

Research shows rise in fossil fuel lobbyists at U.N. COP27 climate talks where African activists are protesting against polluters

  • NGOs say fossil fuels fail to benefit poor Africans
  • Data shows rise in fossil fuel representatives at COP27
  • More green funds could spur African nations to change tack

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - African activists have called at the U.N. COP27 climate summit in Egypt for an end to expansion of fossil fuels on the continent, highlighting that the industry has left a large share of people still without electricity and mired in poverty.

Nigerian climate campaigner Friday Barilule Nbani - who is attending the talks for the first time - said his community in the Niger Delta wanted no more fossil fuel projects, which have left a litany of toxic oil spills and tainted water.

Nbani's appeal came on the anniversary of the death of his uncle, the writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was one of nine men hanged in 1995 - after a flawed trial - for protesting against oil giant Shell's exploitation of the Niger Delta.

"The polluters in Nigeria should get out from this COP," Nbani, of environmental group GreenFaith Nigeria, said in an interview after a protest at the conference centre that called for fossil fuel firms to be excluded from U.N. climate summits. 

"They are destroying the environment - and anything that destroys the environment destroys life, and we are dying in masses."

Friday Barilule Nbani, a Nigerian activist with local environmental group GreenFaith, attends a demonstration at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt calling for 'no more fossil fuels', November 11, 2022

Friday Barilule Nbani, a Nigerian activist with local environmental group GreenFaith, attends a demonstration at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt calling for "no more fossil fuels", November 11, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

Friday Barilule Nbani, a Nigerian activist with local environmental group GreenFaith, attends a demonstration at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt calling for "no more fossil fuels", November 11, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

"They are the ones delaying (climate) action. They have their own agenda," he said, calling for the talks to unlock finance urgently for climate-vulnerable countries such as Nigeria, which has been hit hard by flooding in recent weeks.

"What we want is action now." 

At the small demonstration, led by activists from Africa and Asia, about 50 protesters held up a red banner emblazoned with the words "Kick Big Polluters Out", and chanted "Polluters out; people in".

Climate campaigners have pitched themselves at the talks against African governments that believe they should be allowed to use more gas - the least-polluting fossil fuel - to develop their economies and provide power to 600 million Africans who lack access to electricity, at least through this decade.

Lobbyists on the rise

The demonstration coincided with new research released by human rights groups showing that 636 fossil fuel lobbyists are registered to the COP27 climate talks, affiliated with some of the world's biggest oil and gas firms - both public and private.

The analysis of the United Nations' provisional list of named attendees, by Corporate Accountability, Corporate Europe Observatory and Global Witness, said the number - out of a total of about 42,400 registered government and civil society delegates - was an increase of more than 25% from COP26.

The groups said 29 countries have fossil fuel representatives among their national delegations at the talks, with the United Arab Emirates - the host of next year's COP - bringing the most at 70, followed by Russia with 33.

The African nations with fossil fuel or electricity industry executives on their government teams at COP27 include Angola, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.

Others come with industry associations and advocacy groups.

"There's been a lot of lip service paid to this being the so-called African COP, but how are you going to address the dire climate impacts on the continent, when the fossil fuel delegation is larger than that of any African country?" said Philip Jakpor of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa.

Wael Aboulmagd, Egyptian ambassador and special representative of the COP27 president, told journalists he did not have figures to show how many fossil fuel lobbyists are at COP27.

But, he added, corporate representatives of high-emitting sectors such as cement and steel will speak at "Decarbonization Day" on Friday, taking place alongside the formal negotiations.

"This is where we want to show best practices," he said, noting that participating companies must be able to demonstrate what they have achieved to cut emissions up to now, and how they will meet pledges in the future.

"The context isn't going to be to allow anyone to come and pretend they are doing something," Aboulmagd added.

There is growing pressure on the organisers of the U.N. talks not to allow fossil fuel executives and their supporters to attend the climate summits, with more than 450 organisations having signed up to a call to bar them from the conferences.

Climate activists demonstrate at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt against the presence of fossil-fuel industry representatives at the talks, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 10, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

Climate activists demonstrate at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt against the presence of fossil-fuel industry representatives at the talks, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 10, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

Climate activists demonstrate at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt against the presence of fossil-fuel industry representatives at the talks, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, November 10, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

They are demanding that the U.N. climate secretariat and COP host nations, which change annually, protect the integrity of the negotiations by defining clear conflict of interest policies.

They said the proposal has the backing of governments that collectively represent almost 70% of the world's population.

Fossil fuel cash

The push comes as oil and gas companies rake in huge profits from soaring energy prices driven by disruptions to supplies as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Tzeporah Berman, chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty - which is calling for a new global pact to stop further expansion of the industry - said wealthy countries such as the United States should act first to rein in their rising domestic production of climate-heating fuels.

She said the U.N. talks could contribute to a phasing down of fossil fuels by committing to it in officials texts.

Last year, governments in the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed for the first time to "phase down" unabated coal, which is where technology is not used to capture carbon emissions.

At COP27, there is discussion around whether that scope could be extended to include oil and gas.

But forging agreement could be tricky given the influence of fossil fuel producers on the talks, Berman added.

"These are the incumbents that stand to benefit most from us having little progress here," she said. "They are not going to design their own demise. It's like saying we're going to invite the drug dealers in to figure out how we can stop heroin use."

The Egyptian government also has publicly backed natural gas as a key way to provide energy security and tackle poverty, a stance echoed by some other African governments such as Nigeria and Senegal.

"What countries in the Global South want to know is 'where is the cash?' - and right now the only ones offering them the big cash are the fossil fuel companies," noted Berman.

African activists at COP27 also highlighted the fossil fuel threat to their continents' forests on Thursday.

The area of land allocated to oil and gas production on the African continent is set to quadruple, according to a new analysis by Rainforest Foundation UK and Earth InSight.

Oil and gas exploration blocks overlap 30% of dense tropical forests in Africa, of which 90% are in the Congo Basin, where 150 distinct ethnic groups live, it said.

"We must not let a chaotic expansion of fossil fuels in the Congo Basin risk our precious tropical forests, biodiversity hotspots ... and the rights and livelihoods of forest communities who are already feeling the impacts of climate change," said François Biloko, head of Réseau CREF, an environmental network in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Both he and Nigerian activists said the future for their countries and communities lay instead with clean energy like solar.

"We need renewable energy - it is a friend to humans and the environment," said Nbani from the Niger Delta.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Kieran Guilbert.)


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