The fossil fuel industry turned out in force at COP26 More than 500 attendees from the fossil fuel industry are at the climate summit in Glasgow. Their reps have attended climate summits for decades. Some are touting a shift toward renewables.

The fossil fuel industry turned out in force at COP26. So did climate activists

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1055030272/1055030273" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Now, you might think the fossil fuel industry would steer clear of the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, but major energy companies are a big presence at COP26. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The Russian Federation hosted two energy executives this week at its pavilion here at the summit. Nigel Dunn is a senior vice president at BP. He touted his company's shift away from oil and towards wind, solar and hydrogen and portrayed BP as part of the solution to the climate crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIGEL DUNN: We absolutely need green companies, companies that are developing renewables, but we also need greening companies. And I would like to think BP is one of those greening companies that is committed to the energy transition because time is running out, and we need to hit this transition at pace.

LANGFITT: The other speaker was Sergey Vakulenko, an executive with Gazprom Neft, the Russian oil and gas company. He warned just how much that energy shift is going to cost consumers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGEY VAKULENKO: Politicians are trying to tell, to their electorates, that energy transition would be painless and costless. And effectively, it shifts the blame to business.

LANGFITT: Vakulenko cited a report by the International Energy Agency. It said the transition would cost trillions of dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VAKULENKO: People would have to change their habits when it comes to temperature in their homes, that the temperature should be, well, somewhat uncomfortable. The people might have to change their diets and eat less beef, change their vacation habits and fly less.

LANGFITT: A group of protesters arrives at the Russian pavilion. It's about two stories high amid this giant convention floor. It's kind of laid out like a trade show. The moderator, who works for the Russian Energy Agency, decides to wrap up the conversation early.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I got a message from the organizers. They're asking me to speed up the meeting.

LANGFITT: So there's no Q&A.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No more lies. Keep it in the ground. No more lies. Keep it in the ground.

LANGFITT: Nigel Dunn of BP, he takes off. I catch up with him about 40 yards away.

Sir, when did BP start working on this energy transition?

DUNN: So you have to go through my press office for any comment.

LANGFITT: You just spoke for an hour and a half in there, and you're not taking any questions at all...

DUNN: No.

LANGFITT: ...On one of the biggest issues facing the planet?

DUNN: Sorry. Sorry. You have to go through my press office.

LANGFITT: A report by several watchdog groups says that more than 500 people here at the summit were for countries or organizations which lobby on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. That includes the World Petroleum Council, the World Coal Council, as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Pascoe Sabido works with the Corporate Europe Observatory, one of the watchdog groups. He says, these people are here to gather information, influence government officials and protect big energy interests.

PASCOE SABIDO: Their entire business model is predicated on drilling, digging up, burning fossil fuels. So, of course, they're trying to save their skin. They've got shareholders they need to respond to. They want to make ensure we stay hooked on fossil fuels.

LANGFITT: And he thinks the summit should ban them.

SABIDO: They shouldn't be here because this is a place for governments. This is a place for global interest. And they're not part of that conversation.

LANGFITT: Since they have supplied the energy that's run the economies of the world for 150 years or longer, shouldn't people be talking to them?

SABIDO: Very interesting point, but their interest is on burning fossil fuels, so if we're realizing we need to move away from it, then unfortunately, it's really difficult having them part of the conversation.

LANGFITT: Sabido likens the oil companies here to Big Tobacco years ago - both financed campaigns to fight the science that showed how much damage their industries caused. But here in Glasgow, the energy business is still determined to have a voice.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Glasgow.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLY JOEL SONG, "WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE")

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.