Lobbyists from oil companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco joined government negotiators at recent secretive talks on how to cut emissions from the shipping sector, Climate Home has learned.
Climate Home identified ten oil and gas company lobbyists and over 50 employees of the shipping industry on the participant list of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) talks, which the media and public were barred from.
Shipping uses the dirtiest part of a barrel of oil to fuel its vessels and oil companies are likely to struggle to sell that part elsewhere if the industry moves to cleaner fuels based on green hydrogen.
Lack of transparency
Aoife O’Leary is the director of the Sasha Coalition and was among the 44-strong delegation of climate campaigners at the talks, which took place in London at the end of June.
She said that the IMO, the UN’s shipping arm, “violates international standards on transparency in environmental decision making”.
“There are too few climate vulnerable countries participating in the room due to resource limitations while other delegations are overloaded with industry representatives,” said O’Leary.
The cost of attending several weeks of talks in London is too much for many poorer, smaller and more distant governments.
O’Leary said that there are “many interests looking not to fuels that can solve the climate crisis, but rather to expand their sales of fossil fuels by pushing gas as a ‘transition fuel’ for shipping”.
Rasmus Bjerring Larsen is a policy officer at Green Transition Denmark who was at the talks. He told Climate Home: “Industry involvement at the IMO is overwhelming, particularly from big oil and ship owners. Meanwhile civil society and especially media representation is marginal.”
The week-long meeting, known as the inter-sessional working group, was the behind-closed-doors precursor to a more public week of government discussions about shipping’s climate strategy.
At stake were the questions of what net zero target to set for the industry and whether to set interim 2030 and 2040 targets and consider a tax on ships’ emissions. The shipping industry contributes 3% of global emissions – more than Japan.
At the end of the two weeks, governments agreed to target net zero “by or around, ie close to 20%” and cut emissions by 20% by 2030 and 70% by 2040, compared to 2008 levels.
Lobbyists on the guestlist
Governments bring delegations to the meeting, usually made up of government staff but sometimes including corporate lobbyists or climate campaigners.
Several nations brought lobbyists from oil and gas companies based in their countries. Norway’s delegation included two advisers from Equinor, that of Canada had a regulatory affairs analyst from Irving Oil, and Indonesia brought someone from Pertamina.
The Swiss delegation featured no government employees. Its only representative was Claudio Abbate, the vice-president for government affairs of the Swiss-headquartered Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which is investing in ships powered by fossil gas.
MSC’s biggest competitors were also there. CMA CGM was a guest of the French government, Cosco of the Chinese delegation and Maersk – the most climate-ambitious container shipping company – was part of the Danish delegation.
A host of governments, including Japan, Greece and Germany, brought representatives of their domestic shipping industry trade associations.
The Cook Islands was represented by an Englishman called Ian Finley, who has worked for a trade association representing the chemical shipping industry.
Other industry representatives attended as observers. Shell lobbyist Alex Revans, ExxonMobil’s Christophe Pouts and Saudi Aramco scientist Hassan Alzain were part of the delegation from the oil industry’s environmental lobby group Ipieca.
At the meeting, Ipieca argued in a written submission that the term “lower [greenhouse gas] emissions energies” should be used instead of stricter terms such as “zero-emission fuels”.
They added that carbon offsets from outside the shipping sector should be allowed to contribute to industry’s emissions targets.
As at previous shipping talks, Brazil’s delegation included lobbyists from Brazilian mining company Vale.
Brazil was the strongest opponent of a tax on shipping emissions, labelling it a “tax on distance”. Such a tax is likely to harm the competitiveness of Vale’s metal exports to distant markets like China.
Cruise lines were represented by their CLIA association, which included chief Carnival lobbyist Anna Ziou. While container shipping companies have widely varying levels of support for the clean transition, cruise shipping companies are more consistently resistant to green fuel.
The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents the entire industry, brought an eight-strong delegation and trade associations representing smaller niches of the industry were represented too.
These talks were closed to the media and to the public. The talks the following week were partly open to the media but were not live-streamed for the public to watch like the UN climate talks are.
Even where journalists are allowed into talks, they are not allowed to name individual government speakers without their permission – a restriction that does not govern other UN talks.
Tristan Smith attended the talks for the trade association IMarEST. He told Climate Home that “sometimes it can be hard to know how industry’s preference affects outcomes”.
But, he said that the “IMO’s processes need the expertise and direct input of industry stakeholders for the design of effective policy. It would be odd to try and operate without this.”
Larsen said that “technical knowledge from industry can be valuable” but “stricter conflict-of-interest safeguards and better representation of climate vulnerable countries, marginalized groups and media are key for the IMO to drive a fair and transparent process.”
He added: “It is crucial to set clear boundaries for when and how technical contributions from industry should be made use of, and when the floor should be reserved for state representatives and civil society.”
Reponding to O’Leary’s criticism, an IMO spokesperson said that a fund had been created to support delegates from developing countries, especially small islands and least developed countries, to attend meetings. They said the fund allowed 12 people to attend the talks, half of them from Pacific islands.
The spokesperson added that the IMO had trialled hybrid participation, allowing delegates to talk to the meeting room remotely.
Larsen’s comments were added on July 20