BP, Shell and Chevron representatives will be at event on sidelines of UN climate summit

Oil and gas executives are holding an exclusive invitation-only forum with environmentalists and government representatives on the sidelines of the UN climate summit, in what critics have condemned as an attempt to influence negotiations in favour of fossil fuel companies.

Senior executives from leading oil companies including BP, Shell and Chevron will be at the event in New York on 22 September, which they describe as a “closed high-level discussion” with key stakeholders.

Meanwhile, António Guterres, the UN secretary general, will be bringing world leaders, academics, government representatives and environmentalists together for a climate action summit in the city on 23 September. The UN says the summit is an attempt to motivate countries, companies, cities and civil society to achieve the objectives of the Paris climate agreement.

The invitation sent to some summit guests from Bob Dudley, group chief executive of BP and chair of the industry-led Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), and Jérôme Schmitt, chair of the OGCI steering committee, described the 22 September meeting as an intimate gathering.

Dudley and Schmitt wrote in the invitation: “This will be an opportunity to speak personally with the CEOs and share your thoughts on OGCI’s progress and commitments over the last year.”

The men said the meeting would involve “our most important stakeholders from across industry, academia, government and non-profits for this closed high level discussion”.

The following day, 23 September, the same fossil fuel executives will be present at the formal OGCI forum at the Morgan Library and Museum.

The OGCI was formed by the industry in 2015 in an attempt, the industry said, to increase the ambition, speed and scale of the initiatives undertaken by fossil fuel companies to help reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Its members include Exxon Mobil – which joined last year – Chevron, BP, Shell, Total and several other leading fossil fuel companies.

Taylor Billings, of the global campaign group Corporate Accountability, said the meeting and interaction with the summit were “nothing more than an opportunity for some of the world’s biggest polluters to greenwash”.

She said: “By holding this event just steps from the UN summit, the OGCI is attempting to appear as part of the solution and gain further influence over policymaking.

“Until governments and the UN realise that trying to put the fire out with the arsonists in the room will not work, we risk letting another year go by without adequate action on climate change or supplanting real solutions with fossil-fuel-industry-driven schemes.”

Some of the leading NGOs who are meeting the fossil fuel CEOs defended their position. Mark Brownstein, senior vice-president of energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said: “You make progress by talking to people that you don’t always agree with as well as people that you do agree with.

“Climate change is a global challenge and we cannot afford to marginalise anyone.”

Brownstein said he was using the access to the CEOs to push the oil and gas industry to rapidly cut methane emissions from the extraction and production of fossil fuel. He said: “Human-caused methane emissions are driving about 25% of the warming that our planet is experiencing now, and oil and gas production is responsible for one third of that as a consequence of their global operations.

“I am both pressurising them to address this issue and also engaging with them to develop the technologies and practices necessary to achieve the reduction.”

Brownstein said he hoped the industry would provide transparent data on their tactics to reduce emissions and their work so far at the forum.

He said: “There is a need for real field data made publicly available and it is laudable to aspire to significant reductions, but it is imperative that companies provide the real data … we haven’t seen anything yet from them.”

The National Resources Defense Council, the US-based environmental advocacy group, said it had been invited to the forum and was considering whether to attend.

It said: “We will be weighing the value of speaking directly to the people making the decisions against the undeserved positive glow that some companies may seek to reap from this event.

“Sometimes there can be value in frank face-to-face communication directly with the people who run the companies most responsible for our climate pollution, telling them, without any filters, our concerns with their high-carbon investment decisions, their support for regulatory rollbacks, and their opposition to effective carbon policies.”

But Extinction Rebellion, the sociopolitical movement against climate breakdown, condemned the OGCI gathering.

It said: “This is how lobbying and greenwash works: private meetings, on the sidelines, back door stuff, handpicked attendees.

“But it’s a fool’s errand to find industry-led, voluntary initiatives resulting in the changes needed because it is manifestly against the financial interests of oil companies to stop extracting the Earth’s resources. These meetings do show that they are worried, and probably admit to themselves that the game’s up – but there’s still too much money to be made.”

Schmitt, chair of the OGCI executive committee, said: “Our annual event during Climate Week NYC is part of OGCI member companies’ joint efforts, with a broad range of stakeholders, to increase the speed and impact of our actions to support the Paris agreement. We see our work on reducing methane emissions, carbon intensity and development of a commercial carbon capture utilisation and storage industry as a necessity, not an option, in meeting the world’s climate goals.”