Pull big oil companies out of climate action

Pull big oil companies out of climate action
Pull big oil companies out of climate action

Fossil fuel-funded climate research is as damaging to academic freedom as it is to our planetPIXABAY

On January 12, the United Arab Emirates announced that oil chief Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber would lead the COP28 climate talks in Dubai. Al Jaber is the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the world’s 12th largest oil company by production. This presents a glaring conflict of interest between the conference’s purpose – climate change mitigation – and the personal interests of its president-elect. How confident can we be that he will defend the tough measures against oil and gas expansion that our atmosphere so urgently needs?

This decision to entrust the microphone to oil representatives is not without precedent. At COP27, fossil fuel lobbyists outnumbered delegations from the ten most climate-affected countries combined. Critics have likened it to inviting tobacco companies to a cancer prevention conference. The invasion of annual COPs by fossil fuel figureheads is indicative of the deep and insidious influence that big oil companies wield in all areas of climate change prevention. Their vested interests dominate climate negotiations, corrupt research, and influence government policy and public opinion in their favour.

“Funding university research is a very effective greenwashing tactic”

This includes Cambridge. Although the University of Cambridge has pledged to divest from fossil fuels in 2020, it is still accepting millions of pounds from these companies to fund academic research related to climate change. On the face of it, this seems reasonable: to move away from destructive energy practices, you might say, we need to involve the fossil fuel companies we currently rely on.

Our energy transition cannot be negotiated without the cooperation of the fossil fuel industry, but it is not the industry that must take the lead. Fossil fuel companies continue to defend the relentless extraction model that got us into this mess. They have no place at the table of international climate negotiations, nor can they be allowed to fund research that should make us less dependent on their practices.

Peer-reviewed studies have consistently demonstrated that fossil fuel-funded research will produce results biased in favor of continued fossil fuel production. Funding university research is ultimately a very effective greenwashing tactic that grants oil companies a social license to exist.

Fossil fuel companies are not innovators in this regard: recent surveys have revealed grim parallels between their advertising tactics and those of the tobacco giants. Beginning in the 1950s, tobacco companies actively engineered research controversies so that the connection between cancer and smoking was viewed as only one aspect of contentious debate, rather than a simple truth.

Just as Big Tobacco has conspired for decades to cloud the scientific consensus on smoking, Big Oil also continues to bribe researchers to downplay the urgency of climate action. In 2015, it was revealed that climate change denier Willie Soon’s research, used in the US Congress, was funded entirely by fossil fuel companies, a conflict of interest he had covered up. New evidence reveals that the oil and tobacco industries even shared the same scientists and publicists, regularly firing passionate researchers at each other and rewarding them handsomely for their misinformation. Lobbying works, both above and below the board; only recently has the extent of Big Tobacco interference been revealed.

“The University Council recently refused to let scholars vote to cut its fossil fuel funding”

We cannot afford to let this dangerous relationship between industry and research grow unchallenged: it is as damaging to academic freedom as it is to our solutions to climate change. Student activist group Cambridge Climate Justice has worked with academics to campaign for fossil-free research at Cambridge. Amazingly, the University’s Council recently refused to let scholars vote on a motion to cut its fossil fuel funding.

Achieving sustainability requires a just transition that is not in the interests of the fossil fuel companies that currently bend our climate solutions to their will. Accepting Big Oil’s dirty money is both immoral and counterproductive: let’s stop saving them a seat at the table.

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. Pull big oil companies climate action

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