Oil companies’ secret push to co-opt COP26 revealed

  • Emails reveal attempts by BP, Shell and Equinor to sponsor COP26 climate summit and influence its agenda behind the scenes
  • Alok Sharma urged to rule out fossil fuel industry from selection process for COP26 sponsorship deals
  • Campaigners vow to oust big polluters from climate negotiations

For more information, email info@cultureunstained.org


Read The Cop Files’ – our in-depth analysis of what these emails and meeting notes reveal and view the original sources.
Sign the petition calling on calling on Alok Sharma and the COP Unit to kick polluters out of COP26!

Emails and meeting notes made public today have revealed how major oil and gas companies have pushed to influence and sponsor the COP26 climate summit over the last year, despite organisers only launching their official call for sponsors in August. The UK government’s COP Unit has set out the toughest criteria yet 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’, but these emails reveal a backchannel between oil companies and officials that could compromise the UK’s attempts to show climate leadership. 

Secretary of State for BEIS and President of COP26 Alok Sharma

Campaigners are now calling on President of COP26 Alok Sharma to explicitly rule out partnerships with fossil fuel companies, after a report last week made clear that no major oil and gas company has adopted a “serious climate plan aligned with the Paris goals”.

The Cabinet Office in Westminster, London

The documents, released following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by us, revealed that oil giants 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 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:
  • During a 2-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:
  • 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.

In response, a coalition of climate organisations including us, 350.org, Glasgow Calls Out Polluters, Polluters Out and Corporate Europe Observatory have launched a petition today 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

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a member of Pukatawagan Cree Nation and a Senior Campaign Specialist with 350.org, who has attended many previous UN Climate Summits, commented:

“The role that oil companies have played through their sponsorship of past UN climate summits has been almost as destructive and problematic as the role of the US in terms of blocking any kind of meaningful global compact on reducing carbon emissions. These companies paint themselves as good corporate citizens when in truth they’re directly responsible for the global climate crisis and catastrophic impacts on local ecosystems, Indigenous peoples and their rights. 

Big Oil must not be allowed to participate in any context that skews or creates confusion about the fact they will soon be held accountable in courts of law around the world. The Paris Agreement preamble lifts Indigenous peoples up in theory, and yet they are not given a seat at the table and there are no guarantees of their rights. The players that have had the most influence historically have been big oil companies, financial institutions, carbon traders and the World Bank. COP26 must be different.”

Glasgow SEC centre, where COP26 was originally planned to take place, before Covid-19 caused its postponement

Dr Chris Garrard, Co-director of Culture Unstained, said:

“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.”

Ric Lander, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

Oil companies are profiting from climate inaction. Today’s revelations show how desperate they are to continue to frustrate the zero carbon transition to protect their bottom line. They cannot be allowed to succeed.

Fossil fuel companies aren’t building the future, they are destroying it. They have no place at the UN climate talks. Instead of listening to polluters the UN, UK and Scottish Governments should be taking leadership from those on the front lines of climate chaos: Pacific peoples facing rising seas, communities destroyed by wildfires, unions representing ignored workers in the transition.

The climate and COVID-19 crises demand a Just Transition away from the use of oil and gas to a healthy and sustainable economy – in Scotland, the UK and across the world. The UK and Scottish Governments should shut polluters out of COP26 and fund a just and green recovery that brings prosperity and security to people and planet.”

This is just the latest in a long line of push-backs and protests against major polluters’ involvement in the climate negotiations, many of which faced clampdowns at previous summits. Last year, an activist-led “toxic tour” of polluters sponsoring COP25 in Madrid was halted by police and many were outraged when coal and gas companies were invited by the Polish Government to sponsor the COP24 talks in Katowice the previous year. Similar protests were rapidly shut down by undercover police during the Paris climate summit in 2015.

Leading cultural institutions are continuing to cut their ties to fossil fuel sponsorship. In just the last year, the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland cut their ties to BP and oil firm Shell’s long-running relationships with the National Theatre, Southbank Centre and British Film Institute have all now been ended. Earlier this month, the art activist group Fossil Free Culture NL celebrated having successfully made Amsterdam’s Museumplein “fossil free” after bringing about the end of Shell’s partnerships with the Van Gogh Museum and the Royal Concertgebouw. Meanwhile, the British Museum continues to face large-scale protests and calls to end its controversial sponsorship deal with oil giant BP.