COP26: Fossil Fuel Giants Flood Conference, While Vulnerable Voices Are Being Sidelined

Over 4,000 people marched in the COP26 Sheffield Climate March. Image credit: Tim Dennell/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

While civil society groups, representatives from the Global South, and Indigenous communities make accusations of being "locked out" of COP26, the halls of the climate talks have been flooded with over 500 representatives with links to the interest of fossil fuel giants.

The ongoing COP26 climate conference in Glasgow was branded as the “most inclusive COP ever.” However, as negotiations enter their second week, a number of groups have launched criticism at the event saying they have been excluded from the negotiations and are being sidelined. 

During a typical COP, negotiations occur between delegates from each country in front of observers that include representatives from NGOs, academia, climate justice groups, Indigenous peoples organizations, and so on. While only states can speak during the plenaries, observers can monitor the talks and make certain interventions. Their main aim is to guide the negotiations and lift voices that might otherwise be ignored. 

This year, however, restrictions are making it harder for civil society groups to gain access to the negotiation areas. The Center for International Environmental Law says that “current COP26 structure is placing unprecedented restrictions on who can and cannot attend negotiations, and this is having a severe impact on civil society.” Some of these limits are justified by COVID-19 prevention measures, although many have criticized the restrictions as unfairly impacting vulnerable voices. 

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Others have complained that representatives from the Global South, which will face some of the harshest and most immediate impacts of climate change, have been unable to attend COP26 due to COVID-19 restrictions, a lack of affordable accommodation, and an inability to access the conference.

“The annual UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP26) is a crucial battleground for everyday people against fossil-fueled climate chaos. Heads of state assemble each year to negotiate and implement climate agreements, yet our communities’ voices, who reside on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction and climate catastrophe, are sidelined," Ramon Mejia, National Organizer at Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said in a statement.

"This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, inequitable access to the COP means that many grassroots forces from the global south will not be present to inform the negotiations.”

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Not everyone has struggled to get tickets to the climate talks, however. An analysis by Global Witness has found that at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists have been accredited to attend COP26, including representatives from fossil fuel companies, trade associations, and membership bodies. With over 500 people, that's more delegates than any single country. It’s also larger than the combined total of the eight delegations from the countries worst affected by climate change in the last two decades.

“The case for meaningful global action must not be diverted by a festival of polluters and their mouthpieces, who have no interest in seeing the changes we need to protect people and the planet,” Murray Worthy, Gas Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said in a statement.

“The presence of hundreds of those being paid to push the toxic interests of polluting fossil fuel companies, will only increase the scepticism of climate activists who see these talks as more evidence of global leaders’ dithering and delaying. The scale of the challenge ahead means there is no time for us to be diverted by greenwashing or meaningless corporate promises not matched by delivery.”

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