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‘Like Big Tobacco at a Medical Conference’: Campaigners Urge UK to Ban Fossils from COP 26

Campaigners are renewing their pressure on the United Kingdom government to keep polluters out of this year’s United Nations climate change conference, COP 26, when it convenes (if it convenes) in Glasgow in November.

“To protect vulnerable communities, we urgently need a just transition to a fossil-free world. But many polluters, whose profits depend on inaction, won’t let this happen,” campaign group Glasgow Calls Out Polluters (GCOP) wrote last week, in a letter to COP 26 President Alok Sharma signed by more than 170 grassroot organizations. So “the UK Government must take a firm stance and kick climate polluters out of the 2021 UN climate talks in Glasgow.”

The missive “sets out five steps to achieve a ‘fossil-free and polluter-free’ summit, instructing the government not to give UK passes to polluters or their industry representatives, to refuse them money, and to permanently ‘lock polluters out’ of negotiations,” DeSmog UK writes. “Campaigners also call for the government to deliver climate justice by prioritizing the voices of those worst affected by climate change, as well as a meeting ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’ to discuss how their demands can be met.”

University of Lausanne professor Julia Steinberger told DeSmog the time for polluters to get a platform at international climate gatherings is over.

“For too long, polluting industries who contribute to climate breakdown have had a privileged seat at the negotiations table, with larger access to governments than those working to preserve the climate,” she said. “It is really the same as welcoming tobacco companies to a medical conference deciding on how to prevent lung cancer. It must stop.”

Groups have been making the case for excluding the fossils since January 2020, when COP 26 was still to take place at the end of last year, and October 2020, by which time the focus was already on a postponed summit. By late last year, there were reports the Boris Johnson government had held more than a dozen private meetings with colossal fossils BP, Shell, and Equinor as part of its early preparations for the high-stakes negotiations.

Half a year later, campaigners say they’re pleased those companies have been left out of the process so far. But DeSmog has details on the fossil ties of the businesses that have been at the table.

Glasgow Calls Out Polluters is saying polluters “must be kept out under a Conflict of Interest Policy: an additional amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which would outline who can and cannot attend the UNFCCC Climate Negotiations,” DeSmog writes, just as tobacco companies are barred from the annual World Health Assembly.

“Actions that can meaningfully address the climate crisis often conflict with the profit of corporations in the Global North,” said GCOP spokesperson Cat Scothorne. “Consequently, the scale of action at these summits is greatly reduced. It’s time for the interests of people and the planet to be put before profit and plunder. If not, the consequences will be even graver than what we are witnessing.”