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Shun fossil fuel firms by treating them like tobacco industry, EU urged

Oil and gas companies should be treated like the tobacco industry and denied routine meetings with EU officials, a group of NGOs have said, as they revealed that fossil fuel producers have enjoyed hundreds of meetings with Brussels decision makers since the Paris climate agreement.

Since 2015, six oil and gas giants, including BP and Norway’s Equinor, plus fossil fuel trade bodies have held 568 meetings with top officials at the European Commission, the body responsible for drafting EU climate and energy legislation, according to research by four environmental campaign groups, including Friends of the Earth and the Corporate Europe Observatory.

According to the researchers, 70 former government ministers and other public officials work for these oil and gas companies, which the NGOs say allows the energy firms to benefit from the “knowhow and contact books of insiders”.

Public servants who had gone through the “revolving door”, according to the group, include the former UK secretary of state for energy and climate change, Amber Rudd, now chair of the advisory board of Equinor, formerly known as Statoil. Rudd informed the UK parliament’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments in June 2020 that her role “would not involve contacting or lobbying the UK government at all”.

The report also name checks two former British public servants advising BP: Sir John Sawers, former head of MI6, is executive director to BP; Gen Sir Nick Houghton, former chief of the defence staff, took on work as a consultant in 2017.

The NGOs did not count how many meetings environmental campaigners held with EU officials during the same period, but Myriam Douo, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, argued the comparison was flawed. Companies could amplify their voices through consultancies, trade groups, lobbying firms and thinktanks, she said. In contrast, she argued, NGOs tended to meet EU officials in groups and did not have the same influential former government insiders working for them.

EU decision makers should stop meeting fossil fuel executives and lobbyists in most cases, she said, calling for officials to take inspiration from global efforts to stop smoking.

“The fossil fuel industry is very damaging for the environment … and on the other hand you have the public interest of having a liveable planet. And these two will always be irreconcilable, so what we are asking for is similar measures to what we have done to tobacco applied to fossil fuel lobbyists.”

She suggested, for example, that policymakers follow the example of the World Health Organization’s framework convention on tobacco control guidelines, which recommend governments take “measures to limit interactions with the tobacco industry”.

The Guardian has contacted the European Commission, BP, Equinor and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers for comment.