The fossil fuel industry is quietly undermining global climate talks, report says

A gas flare at an oil well site in North Dakota in 2013.
(Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

Fossil fuel industry giants such as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are maintaining an outsize presence at global climate discussions, working to undermine scientific consensus and slow policy progress, according to findings released last week by an environmental monitoring organization.

The report from the Climate Investigations Center says fossil fuel trade associations have sent more than 6,400 delegates to climate talks since 1995, including delegates from Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil.

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


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

Former Global Climate Coalition members have attended events representing organizations that include the International Emissions Trading Assn. and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Since 2002, the two groups alone have combined to send 2,673 delegates, according to Climate Investigations Center data. Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP each 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 gases from 1988 to 2015, according to the CDP’s Carbon Majors Database.

“While the [Global Climate Coalition] 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 its cooperation, it would be impossible to implement the large-scale changes needed to fight climate change.

But there is a fine line between participation and obstruction. Activists say it has been difficult to get global organizations such as the U.N. to reconsider how fossil fuel representatives are allowed to participate in the process.

“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.”

International Emissions Trading Assn. Chief Executive Dirk Forrister said his trade group does not do any negotiating.

“We abide by a Code of Conduct that supports the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s] goals and respects the different points of view of the many stakeholders,” Forrister told Bloomberg in an email.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development did not respond to a request for comment.

“The legacy of fossil fuel corporate impact on the [U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change] process and the [U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] is both invisible and impossible to forget,” Climate Investigations Center Director Kert Davies said 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.”