Democratic senators warn UN secretary general of eroding public trust in Cop

<span>Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Senior Democratic senators have written to the head of the United Nations warning that public trust in global negotiations on climate action is at risk because of the scale of corporate lobbying – and new controls are needed.

Related: The food emissions ‘solutions’ alarming experts after Cop27

Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Ed Markey of Massachusetts have sent a letter to António Gutierres, the UN secretary general, urging the UN to require sponsors and participants at future climate conferences to provide “audited corporate climate political influencing statements”.

The highly unusual step comes a month after it was revealed that more than 630 fossil fuel lobbyists attended the 27th annual climate summit, Cop27, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Scores more delegates linked to the food industry, mining and the plastics sector – as well as financial institutions that prop up these polluting industries – also participated, despite years of warnings from campaigners about the growing influence of bad faith actors.

“In addition to the issue of hosting a Cop in a country where human and environmental rights defenders are routinely imprisoned, it did not escape our attention that more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists attended this Cop. We urge you to take steps to ensure that the Cop itself can avoid direct interference from corporate actors with a vested financial interest in undermining climate action,” wrote the senators.

“We would recommend that in order to be allowed to be a sponsor, have a pavilion, be a presenter, or attend a Cop, a company be required to disclose an audited corporate climate political influencing statement. Such a requirement would bring much-needed transparency to corporate climate-related political influencing activities around the world, and would help restore public faith that the Cop process is not being abused by companies as an opportunity to greenwash,” they added.

The annual two-week climate summit is attended by almost 200 countries and tens of thousands of delegates, and is the most important global arena for securing international cooperation on lowering emissions and fighting the climate crisis.

But despite three decades of talks, meaningful action has been slow. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the planet is heating with devastating consequences including worsening drought, floods, and heatwaves, as well as rising sea levels and melting glaciers – hitting communities and countries which have contributed least to the climate crisis the hardest.

Environmental and human rights NGOs have been pushing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which operates the Cop summits, to address the conflicts of interest among sponsors and participants, but which has been met with resistance from business groups.

Rachel Rose Jackson, a spokesperson for the Kick Big Polluters Out campaign, which represents more than 450 groups, welcomed the senators’ intervention.

“For years, governments collectively representing 70% of the world’s population have joined hundreds of civil society organizations in trying to pass measures to protect climate policy from the abuse of big polluters. Consistently, the US government has been the largest blocker, and so it’s refreshing to see a demand coming from within the United States … after yet another Cop overrun by polluters, we hope the UNFCCC will finally and firmly end the corporate stranglehold of climate policy,” said Jackson.

Coca-Cola, a major Cop27 sponsor, has been found to be the world’s top plastic polluter for five years running, as have PepsiCo and Nestlé which also both sent delegates to Egypt.