Energy firms National Grid, SSE and ScottishPower, along with NatWest Group, have been unveiled as the first sponsors of UN climate talks in the UK next year.
The key COP26 climate summit was due to have taken place this month in Glasgow, but was postponed to next November due to the pandemic.
The Government said all sponsors, who will help shoulder the costs of the talks, have committed to the “Science Based Targets” initiative to set ambitious goals to cut emissions and draw up credible action plans to achieve them.
Plans are required to be in line with what the science says is needed to meet the aims of the international Paris Agreement on climate change to keep global temperature rises to “well below” 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
🗓️ This December 12th🤝 The UK, France & @UN will hold a virtual event🌏 To mark 5yrs since the Paris Agreement
— COP26 (@COP26) November 13, 2020
ScottishPower, SSE and National Grid are investing in low carbon technology and infrastructure such as renewables, while NatWest Group is the leading lender to the renewables sector and has policies to stop lending to coal, oil and gas exploration and fracking, officials said.
The energy companies have also confirmed they are developing plans for a £3 billion underwater “super highway” of high voltage subsea cables to transport renewable power from Scotland, such as wind, to other parts of the UK.
Previous UN climate conferences have faced controversy over sponsorship from fossil fuel companies and other polluting interests.
COP26 president and Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “I am delighted to announce our first sponsors for COP26, who have all shown ambitious climate leadership through setting net zero commitments and Science Based Targets.
“When it comes to climate action, we all have an important role to play. Only by continuing to come together can we build the zero carbon, climate resilient future that is essential for our people and our planet.”
We’ve just announced the start of works on an underwater energy super highway with @NationalGridUK and @ScottishPower. As @COP26 Principal Partners we’re coming #TogetherForOurPlanet to help make #netzero a reality.
— SSE Plc (@SSE) November 16, 2020
Mel Evans, senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said sponsorship choices for COP26 sent a signal to the world about how bold the UK would be in leading the global climate transition and a move away from fossil fuels.
“It is therefore encouraging that the first COP26 sponsors are companies that are heavily invested in the renewables transition, and that, so far, fossil fuel companies such as BP, Shell and Equinor are not on the list.
“The Government has controversially held regular meetings with fossil fuel companies regarding COP26.
“They should now be explicitly ruled out as sponsors to avoid any risk of them greenwashing these vital global climate negotiations,” she said.
But Friends of the Earth Scotland criticised SSE as a sponsor due to its gas-fired power station at Peterhead, and raised concerns that National Grid’s support for technology such as carbon capture and storage could continue the use of fossil fuels.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s head of campaigns Mary Church said: “While the very worst big oil companies are notably missing from this initial list of sponsors for the Glasgow climate summit, the companies chosen by the UK Government are hardy showing the kind of climate leadership we urgently need at this stage in the crisis.”