Companies with ties to the fossil fuel industry and poor records on pollution will have a notable presence at the U.N. climate summit starting Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, sparking backlash from environmentalists.

Egyptian organizers have hired Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a public relations firm that has represented oil giants including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and Saudi Aramco, to manage communications for the COP27 negotiations, according to emails and other materials reviewed by The Climate 202.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola was selected as a sponsor of the summit, despite the beverage company’s connection to the billions of tons of plastic waste choking the world’s oceans.

Hill+Knowlton has touted its focus on sustainability, while the Egyptian organizers said they chose Coca-Cola because of its commitment to reducing emissions. But environmentalists have slammed the significant role of these companies in the world’s largest annual gathering aimed at spurring greater climate action.

“It’s like putting Philip Morris in charge of tobacco negotiations,” said Jamie Henn, the founder of Clean Creatives, a campaign pressuring PR and advertising agencies to quit working with fossil fuel companies.

In 2017 and 2018, Hill+Knowlton created ads that touted Shell’s efforts to power London’s buses with biodiesel made partly from coffee grounds. “Your coffee can now help power buses: Shell,” the ads said.


And this year, Hill+Knowlton has helped the Egyptian organizers of COP27 hold virtual briefings for journalists, according to an emailed invitation shared with The Climate 202. The briefing featured remarks by Timothy Hurst, a managing director in Hill+Knowlton’s Dubai office, according to a screenshot.

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor who studies climate disinformation, called it “unconscionable” that the firm is involved with the climate summit, given its work on behalf of Big Tobacco and Big Oil.

“Hill and 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 said in an email. “Then that 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.”

Hill+Knowlton did not respond to a request for comment. But on its website, the firm says it has launched a strategy “to empower businesses and brands to have a better impact on people and the planet,” drawing on the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.


In an open letter released Friday morning, more than 400 scientists wrote that Hill+Knowlton’s work for fossil fuel industry clients is “incompatible” with the aims of the COP27 negotiations.


“These clients’ business plans to increase fossil fuel production run counter to the goals of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process to create a just, global process to limit the worst impacts of climate change,” the scientists wrote in the letter, which was organized by Clean Creatives and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The letter comes after the environmental groups Just Zero and Beyond Plastics on Wednesday urged COP27 to drop Coca-Cola as a sponsor.

“COP27 is supposed to focus on solutions for fighting catastrophic climate crisis,” Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and a former senior Environmental Protection Agency official under President Barack Obama, said in a statement. “Instead, we’re allowing it to be a stage for corporate greenwashing.”

Coca-Cola did not respond to a request for comment. But the company previously told the Associated Press: “Our support for COP27 is in line with our science-based target to reduce absolute carbon emissions 25% by 2030, and our ambition for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The other sponsors of COP27 include IBM, Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group and Vodafone, but they have drawn less criticism for their participation. Microsoft, for its part, has pledged to purchase massive amounts of renewable energy to feed its power-hungry data centers.

Meanwhile, at last year’s COP26 negotiations in Scotland, big oil and gas companies were effectively banned from sponsoring events at the summit after the organizers laid out their criteria. Sponsors had to not only set net-zero targets, which Shell and BP have done, but also show a “credible action plan to achieve this, independently verified through the science-based targets initiative.”

Despite these requirements, the fossil fuel industry ended up sending more delegates to the summit than any single country, according to the advocacy group Global Witness.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.