Big oil need not apply: UK raises the bar for UN climate summit sponsorship

Fossil fuel money is not welcome to help run next year’s Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, as UK government seeks sponsors with net zero emissions plans

The Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow where Cop26 is due to take place (Pic: Flickr/Stevie Brown)

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The UK government will not accept sponsorship from fossil fuel companies for next year’s UN climate summit in Glasgow, Climate Home News understands. 

Like in previous years, the UK hosts of the two-week event are seeking corporate sponsors to shoulder some of the cost, initially estimated at £250 million ($330m).

Unlike in previous years, which have seen large polluters use such deals to bolster their green credentials, sponsors of Cop26 are expected to have a credible plan to cut their emissions to net zero by 2050, the official website states. Climate Home News understands that oil and gas majors will not be considered.

Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and policy at the Boston-based NGO Corporate Accountability, has long campaigned for polluters to be “kicked out” of climate talks. She told CHN that, if confirmed, the decision to exclude oil and gas companies from sponsorship deals would be “a testament to the strength of the movement”.

“For years, the UN climate talks have failed to deliver for people on the global frontlines of the climate crisis, yet has rolled out the red carpet for the world’s largest polluters,” she said.

A decision not to allow oil and gas sponsorship “is long overdue,” she added. “It should be the bare minimum of any government hosting talks meant to avert the very crisis that the fossil fuel industry has fueled and profited off of for decades.”

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Dylan Tanner, executive director of Influence Map, which tracks corporate lobbying against climate action, told Climate Home News sponsorship of large climate conferences have been a part of the playbook for polluting companies for a long time.

Governments hosting the talks have previously been criticised for giving a platform to those responsible for causing the climate crisis.

Air France, gas and electricity company Engie and carmaker Renault were among the sponsors of Cop21 in Paris in 2015, when countries agreed to limit global temperature rise “well below 2C” by the end of the century.

In 2018, Poland’s leading coal company Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW) sponsored the climate talks held in Katowice, at the heart of the country’s coal-producing region. The Polish pavilion memorably advertised coal-shaped bars of soap.

Last year, corporate accountability groups accused Spain of allowing its biggest polluters to use the climate summit in Madrid to “wrap themselves in the green branding of the COP”.

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In a note on the Cop26 website, the UK presidency said it was looking for companies that “are making real contributions to the fight against climate change” to sponsor the event. Eligible businesses must have committed to cut their emissions to net zero by 2050 or earlier, including “a credible short term action plan” to achieve their goal, before Cop26.

While applications are open to any company that can demonstrate strong climate credentials, priority will be given to UK-based businesses or with a large UK footprint. The call for sponsors does not explicitly rule out oil and gas companies from sponsorship deals.

UK-based oil majors BP and Shell have both committed to achieve net zero emissions in their operations by 2050 or sooner. Their plans rely on large scale use of carbon offsets and technologies such as carbon capture and storage. A decision to rule out any sponsorship deal from fossil fuel companies would imply the Cop26 presidency does not consider such plans credible.

Cop26, which is scheduled for November 2021 after being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is set to be the largest international event the UK has ever hosted, with 30,000 delegates from around the world expected to attend.

The UK is hoping to leverage the resources, commitments and expertise of companies with ambitious climate plans to bolster international climate action and spur a “race to zero”.

Britain’s Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Muñoz of Chile are leading the call for companies, cities and regions to “set the pace” and  pledge to cut their emissions to net zero by 2050 at the latest.

Read more on: Business | Climate Politics | COP26