In 2021, oil companies were excluded from sponsorship deals and official involvement at the COP26 Glasgow climate summit. A year on and there is a much warmer welcome for the industry at COP27. The decision in Glasgow was right on sponsorship but wrong, in my view, on participation. We need the oil companies, and particularly those willing to transition, to be part of the conversation and they absolutely must be part of the solution. But the appearance in strength at COP27 of fossil lobbyists is unsettling. The energy crisis has put a real pep in their step. The FT has pointed to analysis by Global Witness that showed a 25% jump in fossil fuel lobbyists attending the event as compared to COP26. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has made its presence felt by hosting its Green Initiative event (The SGI Forum 2022) over two days. In an interview with the FT, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir made clear the country’s objective when he said “we don’t see this as a discussion about fossil fuels…You can achieve carbon neutrality while producing fossil fuels, and we’re proving it in Saudi Arabia”. The solution, they say, is to be found in tree planting (10 billion in Saudi Arabia alone), energy efficiency, carbon capture and hydrogen.
This perfectly encapsulates today’s challenge in moving climate policy along. While no credible sovereign or corporate body challenges the scientific fact of climate change, the confusion is now sown in the discussion as to whether greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced ex-ante through the reduction in fossil fuel usage or whether we should continue to use fossil fuels and address the emissions ex-post. The latter presents by some margin the path of least resistance as far as fossil fuels companies, politicians and many voters are concerned, but it remains a high-risk strategy for the planet based on unrealistic assumptions about the effectiveness of carbon offsets, such as tree planting, and the availability at scale of unproven technology such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) or direct air capture (DAC). Human ingenuity may well deliver on the technology front, but it’s also entirely possible we won’t know the result until it is too late for limiting climate warming to 2⁰C, let alone 1.5°C.
Lobbying is becoming a litmus test for shareholders on assessing companies’ transition credentials. We know there is a policy gap inhibiting the action required to put companies onto a pathway to net zero. We accept that voluntary action may not always be possible. However, what a company is doing about the policy gap and what the representative bodies or advocacy groups they are members of, are doing about it, is now in focus. The assessment of lobbying started out as a disclosure request, on membership and political donations, and on alignment of those representative bodies with a company’s public commitments to 1.5°C. Through the work of many groups, this has evolved to include governance of lobbying at board level and engagement with various stakeholders on policies, positions, and activities. The Global Standard on Corporate Climate Lobbying, launched in March 2022 by investor groups, is a framework to ensure companies’ lobbying and political engagement activities are in line with the goal of restricting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, but it also goes further: “Responsible climate change lobbying is not just about avoiding lobbying that obstructs climate policies. It must also be about lobbying proactively – individually and with others – for policy measures that support the goal of limited global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” 
We believe it is not enough for companies to state that there is a policy gap. It is not enough to have their representative groups aligned with 1.5°C. We need to see the companies themselves detailing the specifics of the policies that they require in order to enable their transition and we also need to see them actively pushing governments to enact those changes.
I wonder, how many of the 636 fossil lobbyists at COP27 will be lobbying on this basis? I fear we have a lot of work to do to turn “fossil lobbyists” into “fossil lobbyists for real decarbonisation”.
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