US Republicans at Dubai climate summit have accepted $11 million in fossil fuel donations

The fossil fuel industry has a huge presence this year’s UN climate talks — including many US lawmakers who count the sector among their biggest donors.

View of the Blue Zone at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference — where participants can attend panels, gatherings and other events. Credit: COP28 / Christopher Pike, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

By Sam BrightPhoebe Cooke and Michaela Herrmann

Republican lawmakers with a presence at the international climate summit in Dubai   — known as COP28 —  have received over $11 million in fossil fuel donations, DeSmog can reveal.

DeSmog’s review of three Congressional COP28 delegations comprising dozens of senators and representatives has found that of the 36 Republican lawmakers involved, just 10 received more than $9.4 million of these campaign contributions. 

Each has accepted at least $500,000 from polluting companies over their careers, DeSmog found.

While the 15 Democratic lawmakers included in the Congressional delegations appear to have received little to no fossil fuel support, a majority of the 36 Republicans have accepted campaign contributions from the sector.

Many of these politicians are slated to attend the conference in person, while others are sending staff to represent them.

E&E News has reported that the Republican lawmakers will attempt to use COP28 to assert the nation’s dominance as a global energy leader. The U.S. is the world’s biggest oil producer.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA 5), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told a subcommittee on December 5 that Republicans going to Dubai planned “to carry to the world stage at COP28…a message about building on America’s energy leadership, to demonstrate a path to a cleaner, more secure world, and more prosperous and resilient communities.” 

Rodgers was expected to lead one of the House delegations, but unexpectedly dropped out citing a scheduling conflict, as reported by Politico. 

As accredited COP28 badge-holders, the U.S. lawmakers have access to the “Blue Zone,” a UN-sponsored area at the conference center where attendees can attend unofficial events and network. However, they are not party to the official negotiations.

Financial donations exert a major influence on politicians, said Dana Fisher, director of the center for environment, community, & equity and professor in the school of international service at American University. 

“When people take fossil fuel money, whether or not they say they’re running on a platform that is strong on climate, they tend to vote for fossil fuel interests over whatever they promised having to do with climate,” said Fisher, who researches climate politics and has authored a book on obstacles to climate action, “even though their constituents elected them because they care about the climate.”

Oily money

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s senior senator, leads the group with over $2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry between 2003-2023.  

Murkowski, who is a member of the Senate’s powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is widely seen as a moderate Republican who has publicly acknowledged the need to tackle climate change. But she has also championed development of Alaska’s substantial oil, coal, and methane gas deposits. 

She is being represented at COP28 by her state director Steve Wackowski, dubbed by Politico as “the man determined to deliver Trump’s Alaska oil promise” – referring to his role in opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge’s pristine coastal plain to drilling.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), represented in Dubai by legislative director Micah Chambers, has received $1.6 million from oil and gas interests since his political career began in 1995. The largest donors include Energy Transfer LP, the U.S. gas and propane pipeline transport company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and Chord Energy, an oil and gas extraction and fracking company operating in North Dakota and Montana.

Rounding out the top five recipients of fossil fuel donations: Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA 6) has taken around $974,000 during his Congressional career, is sending staffer Taylor Playforth to COP28. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), represented at the conference by General Counsel Jacob Tyner, has received about $874,000 from the sector. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is sending staffer Ryan Mowry, has received around $853,000. 
Sen. Dan Sullivan is among the top five Republican recipients of fossil fuel campaign contributions attending UN climate talks in Dubai. During the conference he posted to X: “Mr. President—how about getting oil from America! Like the National PETROLEUM Reserve of Alaska, which your Interior Secretary is relentlessly locking up.”— Sen. Dan Sullivan (@SenDanSullivan)

Conservative policy influencers

Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis has sent three staffers to COP28: Executive Director Grace Bellone, Deputy Chief of Staff Jacob Bornstein, and Communications Director Adam Cloch.

While Curtis has taken a comparatively small $235,000 in contributions from the oil and gas sector, he is the founder of the House Conservative Climate Caucus, which Cloch directs.

The caucus has a stated mission “to educate Republican members of Congress on climate policies and legislation that are in line with conservative values.” 

The group acknowledges that “the climate is changing” but places the onus for reducing emissions on other nations, such as China. The group’s mission statement also states that “fossil fuels can and should be a major part of the global solution.”

Bellone is a former energy industry lobbyist who has represented Vistra Energy Corp, a Texas energy utility, and crude oil transportation company Tallgrass Energy Partners. A report released last month by the National Public Utilities Council (NPUC) found that Vistra was one of the worst utilities in the U.S. at decarbonising power generation.

E&E News has reported that Curtis “plans at COP to work across the aisle with his frequent legislative collaborator, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), to pitch the international community on legislation that would require the Energy Department to study the carbon intensity of certain industrial goods.”

Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, Republicans have signaled that  they will not honor Vice President Kamala Harris’s pledge at COP28 that the U.S. will add $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, which assists developing nations in cutting emissions and managing the impacts of climate change.

“An unprecedented show of force”

Talks at the 12-day climate conference are well underway, as negotiators from 193 countries attempt to thrash out a deal to phase out the burning of oil, gas, and coal.

Climate scientists have been warning for years that burning fossil fuels for energy – the primary driver of climate change – must stop within the next several years if the world is to restrict global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But the heavy presence of the fossil fuel industry and its allies at this year’s climate conference has spurred worries for months that the talks will fail to produce an effective phase-out agreement. The COP28 president, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, is the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) – which pumped 2.7 millions barrels of oil a day in 2021, and plans to double production by 2027. 

An analysis released last week by the Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition found that a record 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists registered to attend this year’s climate conference, four times the number from last year’s summit.

“Fossil fuel interests are making an unprecedented show of force” at the talks, said Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We urge members of Congress attending these talks to recognize that their constituents are reeling from the devastating economic and human toll of climate change and need real solutions.”

The scale of fossil fuel influence at the UN climate negotiations is “unsurprising,” according to Fisher, who says the sector’s power at the talks has accelerated over the past 15 years, while NGOs are being pushed out of the process.  “We saw this happen starting in Copenhagen,” she said, referring to the 2009 climate talks. “Civil society and the general public have been blocked out of these meetings. Even the NGO observers who have credentials are given extremely limited access. And that’s not the way it used to be.”

Republican lawmakers did not respond to DeSmog’s requests for comment.


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