Campaigners slam choice of fossil fuel-linked companies as sponsors of COP26

  • The UK Government have announced their first sponsors for COP26 in a move described as “nowhere near good enough” by UK climate groups
  • This includes the owner of Scotland’s biggest emitting power plant, SSE, as well as NatWest, which has financed $12.12 billion worth of fossil fuel projects and companies since 2016 
  • A coalition of groups have called for SSE to be dropped as a sponsor, and for all future sponsors to have no involvement in polluting activities

A coalition of climate groups have called on the UK Government to overhaul their sponsorship plans for the upcoming UN Climate Summit COP26, following the announcement made on Monday that companies involved in fossil fuels have been chosen as sponsors.

The coalition includes 350.org, Culture Unstained, Glasgow Calls Out Polluters, Biofuelwatch, Friends of the Earth Scotland, UK Youth Climate Coalition and Medact. Last month, they launched a petition hosted by 350.org to keep big polluters out of COP26. It currently has over 10,000 signatures, and continues to grow.

The UK Government has recently come under pressure to exclude fossil fuel companies as sponsors after Culture Unstained published evidence that they had discussed COP sponsorship with oil majors Shell, BP and Equinor. Whilst these companies have not yet been chosen, two of the newly announced sponsors are active in the fossil fuel supply chain. 

Four UK-based companies have been announced: energy giants SSE and Scottish Power, the National Grid (owned by both SSE and Scottish Power) and banking firm NatWest Group. Sponsors for COP26 are required to sign up to the ‘Science-Based Targets’ initiative, which asks signatories to detail a plan for aligning business practices to the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

Jess Worth from Culture Unstained said:  

“This is nowhere near good enough, with two of these companies actively contributing towards climate breakdown. While they are undeniably making substantial investments in the clean energy transition, their ongoing links to fossil fuels makes holding them up as ‘climate leaders’ dangerous. The UK government seems to have bought into the industry rhetoric that somehow future fossil fuel use is compatible with hitting the Paris climate goals. The science tells us it is not, and unfortunately their choice of sponsors suggests they are not planning on showing the kind of bold and decisive leadership we so desperately need from the hosts of this pivotal summit. However, this situation could be redeemed if both of these sponsors committed to phasing out their involvement in fossil fuels completely.”

SSE has come under fire for its activities in Scotland, where its Peterhead gas power plant has topped the list of carbon polluters in Scotland for two years running, emitting 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2019. 

Whilst yesterday’s sponsorship announcement coincided with the announcement of SSE’s plans to develop a renewable energy “superhighway” in the UK along with Scottish Power and National Grid, SSE are also responsible for the only new gas power station currently under construction in the UK: Keadby 2 in Lincolnshire. Keadby 2 isn’t due to open until 2022 and is scheduled to continue burning gas for decades. Activists from Reclaim the Power shut down construction last year in protest at the building of unnecessary new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Scott Tully from Glasgow Calls Out Polluters said:

“SSE are a terrible choice of sponsor. They are failing the climate by constructing the only new gas-fired power station in England and by running Scotland’s most polluting power station. They have very recently failed Scottish communities, by outsourcing much needed renewable energy jobs to the lowest bidder. They do not have the credentials to be associated with such an important summit and should be dropped from the list of sponsors unless they move away from their climate-wrecking business plans.”

Alongside SSE, NatWest Group has been criticised for its involvement with fossil fuels. A recent report found that it has financed $12.12 billion worth of fossil fuel projects since 2016.

COP26 is considered to be one of the most important summits of recent times, with countries coming together to take stock of progress since the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, despite hosting the conference, the UK Government have yet to submit their climate pledges (known as Nationally Determined Contributions) and have taken the unusual step of employing a consultancy firm associated with fossil fuel companies. 

Ellen Gibson, UK Senior Organiser at 350.org said:

“Thousands of people have signed a petition to COP President Alok Sharma calling for big polluters to be excluded from the summit. For decades we have seen the devastating impact oil and gas companies have on global climate negotiations. They have lobbied, lied and obstructed to protect their business and stop governments committing to real action. COP26 is an opportunity for the UK government to draw a line under polluters’ involvement in these vital talks. The world is hungry for climate action – now it’s time for the government to deliver.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Head of Campaigns Mary Church said:

“While the very worst big oil companies are notably missing from this initial list of sponsors, the companies chosen by the UK Government are hardly showing the kind of climate leadership we urgently need at this stage in the crisis. This first announcement of COP26 sponsorship indicates that the UK Government is going down the route of greenwashing rather than showing the real leadership needed to tackle climate breakdown in this critical decade for climate action. Big polluters and those who would promote their greenwash must not be allowed to influence these vital talks. Just like the World Health Organisation banned big tobacco from its spaces, climate polluters must be kicked out of the climate talks.”

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