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Climate Change

400+ Scientists Call Out COP27 PR Firm For Supporting Fossil Fuel Clients

A PR firm’s double-dipping with climate crisis constituents and the fossil fuel industry is only one problem facing COP27.

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The PR firm is called Hill+Knowlton. They’ve been designated by the Egyptian government, which is sponsoring COP27, to take charge of all communications at this month’s climate summit. Is Hill + Knowlton a knowledgeable, capable, and qualified PR firm? Yes. The US-based public relations firm has a solid track record for success in the field. However, as they continue to represent fossil fuel companies, they’ve been called out by more than 420 scientists to drop their climate polluting clients before the pivotal COP27 talks start.

In an open letter, the scientific experts wrote that “Hill+Knowlton has played an enabling role in campaigns to mislead the public through its work with clients such as Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.” The scientists argue that work with fossil fuel clients is an egregious conflict of interest with the mission of COP27.

Big Oil and Gas have had their best year ever. The world’s 5 biggest fossil fuel companies have made a combined profit of $170 billion so far in 2022, and, as most producers are nationally owned, many not required to divulge their profits yet are the largest contributors to climate pollution.

To continue to maintain these clients fails to address the worsening impacts of the climate crisis.

What is COP27 & What Is at Stake?

This is the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27). The climate summit begins Sunday and continues until November 18; it will build on the outcomes of COP26 to deliver action on an array of issues critical to tackling the climate emergency:

  • urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • building resilience and adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change
  • delivering on the commitments to finance climate action in developing countries, among others

The atmosphere is tense; the behind-the-scenes negotiations already are fraught and frenzied. Heads of state, ministers, negotiators, climate activists, mayors, civil society representatives, and CEOs will meet in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh for the largest annual gathering on climate action.

Faced with a growing energy crisis, record greenhouse gas concentrations, and increasing extreme weather events, COP27 seeks renewed solidarity between countries to deliver on the landmark Paris Agreement, for people and the planet.

The Duplicitous PR Firm Deciding on COP27 Communications

The open letter from over 400 scientists to remove Hill+Knowlton was organized by Fossil Free Media‘s Clean Creatives campaign and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The scientists outlined how they are “constantly faced with the twin challenges of addressing the climate emergency and overcoming fossil fuel industry-backed disinformation campaigns.” Hill+Knowlton’s Big Oil and Gas clients, as described in the letter:

“have not taken the fundamental steps necessary to address the climate emergency and sharply rein in fossil fuels. Instead, they have used Hill+Knowlton and other PR agencies to spin, delay, and mislead, in order to continue expanding fossil fuel production and, thereby, increasing heat trapping emissions.”

As a result, the group of scientists is calling on Hill+Knowlton “to end its relationship with fossil fuel clients that are worsening the climate crisis and commit fully to the climate action the world desperately needs.”

According to Clean Creatives campaign director Duncan Meisel, “Hill+Knowlton’s fossil fuel clients have told investors and regulators that they plan to dig up and burn enough coal, oil, and gas to make achieving the Paris climate agreement” — which seeks to limit global warming to 1.5ºC above preindustrial levels — “impossible.”

As Harvard University historian and letter signatory Naomi Oreskes explains, “Hill+Knowlton was one of the central players who developed the ‘tobacco playbook,’ which used half-truths and disinformation to discredit the scientific evidence of the harms of smoking.” Oreskes notes that this playbook “was used for decades by Big Oil to discredit the scientific evidence of the harms of burning fossil fuels. It’s unconscionable to me that COP would hire them to help with climate change PR.”

COP27 is Fraught with Tensions from Many Constituents

Several other problems also already foreground the challenges that the COP27 participants will face.

Rich human, poor human: Global warming is reaching a critical juncture for the poorest nations. The gulf between the Global South and the developed world, in terms of climate effects and mitigation, is coming sharply into focus ahead of the COP27 meeting. Richer nations haven’t met targets they set to help poorer nations, and talks about what they should owe and how they should go about it will be long-winded and likely to provide little headway.

Human rights violations: The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an NGO, said Wednesday that 93 people had been arrested in Egypt in recent days. The Egyptian government has been accused of arbitrarily detaining activists after Egyptian dissidents abroad called for protests to be held against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on November 11 during the United Nations climate talks. CNN reports that, while protests are rare – and mostly illegal – in Egypt, a looming economic crisis and a brutal security regime have spurred renewed calls for demonstrations by dissidents seeking to exploit a rare window of opportunity presented by the climate summit.

Methane pledge promises: A new report shows how hard it will be to deliver on the nonbinding Global Methane Pledge to cut emissions of the gas 30% by 2030. The World Meteorological Organization’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, released October 26, shows that in 2021, concentrations of the potent but short-lived climate pollutant jumped faster than in any year since measurements started in the mid-1980s.

Fossil fuel lobbyists: More than 500 fossil fuel lobbyists were admitted to last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, giving the industry most responsible for causing the climate crisis a larger presence than any single country at a meeting designed to combat it. Then again, when the COP26 summit ended last November, there seemed to be great promise. Delegates from around the world celebrated in Glasgow, as countries agreed to limit global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels — a major advance on the 2015 Paris agreement, which targeted a 2C limit while promising to pursue efforts to stay within the lower range.

Final Thoughts about COP27

The 2022 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a dark picture of the future of life on earth, characterized by ecosystem collapse, species extinction, and climate hazards such as heat waves and floods. These are all linked to physical and mental health problems, with direct and indirect consequences of increased morbidity and mortality.

The primary focus of the climate summits remains to rapidly reduce emissions so that global temperature rises are kept to below 1.5°C. This will limit harm. But for the numerous vulnerable regions, this harm is already severe. Achieving the promised target of providing $100 billion of climate finance a year is now globally critical if we are to forestall the systemic risks of leaving societies in crisis.

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Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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