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Oil companies push to co-opt COP26 climate summit

Culture Unstained, a research, engagement and campaigning organisation, have revealed how major oil and gas companies have pushed to influence and sponsor the COP26 climate summit over the last year.

This was despite organisers only launching their official call for sponsors in August.

The UK Government’s COP Unit has set out criteria for sponsors of a UN climate summit, indicating that applicants must be “leaders in their industry, driving positive change and innovation towards a lower carbon world”. However, emails and meeting notes (released to Culture Unstained following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests) reveal a backchannel between oil companies and officials that could compromise the UK’s attempts to show climate leadership.

The documents revealed how Equinor, Shell and BP have been in close talks with UK Government officials for many months, discussing sponsorship and other forms of partnership around the COVID-delayed summit, now scheduled for November 2021. They show how:

  • Norwegian oil giant Equinor has had in-depth meetings with the COP Unit and was brazenly pushing for a sponsorship deal in emails to civil servants last October: “If I was to ask you – ballpark – how much money you would like from us, for what, and with what visibility for us, what would you say?”

  • During a two-week period in March, BP discussed its involvement in COP26 at four separate meetings across government, including over lunch with Minister for Business Kwasi Kwarteng, where notes recorded how: “[BP] really want to be involved [in COP26] and [is] keen to work with the government. [BP is] currently meeting with several different people from all across government.”

  • Shell has been seeking to ‘partner’ with the government on COP since July 2019 and raised COP26 over dinner with the UK Ambassador in The Hague. Campaigners are now calling on the President of COP26, Alok Sharma, to explicitly rule out partnerships with fossil fuel companies, after the ‘Big Oil Reality Check’ report (released in September) made clear that no major oil and gas company has adopted a “serious climate plan aligned with the Paris goals”.

A coalition of climate organisations (including Culture Unstained,, Glasgow Calls Out Polluters, Polluters Out, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Corporate Europe Observatory) have launched a petition calling on Alok Sharma and the COP Unit to:

  • Publicly rule out fossil fuel companies as sponsors because they are responsible for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and are continuing to invest in fossil fuel extraction.

  • Ensure that no big polluters – or companies facilitating other forms of environmental destruction – are included as sponsors of the COP. Dr Chris Garrard, Co-director of Culture Unstained, commented:

“The cynical motives of the fossil fuel industry have once again been laid bare. Whether it is by sponsoring museums or the crucial COP26 climate negotiations, these companies are more bothered about looking green than genuinely shifting their businesses away from fossil fuels as the climate emergency - and the Paris Climate Agreement - demands.

The list of cultural organisations and institutional investors cutting ties to oil companies is growing fast. With COP26 delayed, Alok Sharma and the COP Unit must now draw the same ethical red line. Otherwise it will be showing the world that it is siding with major polluters before the talks even begin.”

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