An investigation by Friends of the Earth Scotland has revealed the fossil fuel industry met with MSPs more than once a working day in the two years since the 2021 election, including at glitzy receptions, on foreign trips and even inside UN climate conferences.

790 meetings between MSPs and fossil fuel companies or their trade bodies since 2018 were uncovered in the study, the largest of its kind. 309 were with Scottish Government ministers and 481 were with opposition and backbench MSPs. The research reviewed six years of data from Scottish Government ministerial diaries, the Scottish Parliament Lobbying Register and other sources.

The revelations come as concern grows about the corrupting influence of oil companies on Scotland’s efforts to tackle climate breakdown. Campaigners pointed to the repeated failure of the Scottish Government to meet climate commitments and the lack of credible just transition plans for workers in the energy industry.

Climate campaigners are demanding that new rules are created in Scotland to defend climate policy from oil company influence. Measures include ending fossil fuel funding of UK political parties and public programmes, greater transparency of lobbying meetings, and support for calls to exclude the fossil fuel industry from the UN climate negotiations. Rules currently exist to protect health policy from lobbying by the tobacco industry and could easily be adapted to protect environmental plans.

Last month’s COP28 climate talks which failed to commit to an urgent fossil fuel phase out were chaired by the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company with over 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance.

Fossil fuel lobbying incidents

At the COP27 climate talks in Egypt in 2022, Scottish Government Special Advisor Liz Lloyd met with SSE who own Peterhead power station which is Scotland’s single biggest polluter. Earlier that year SSE had submitted a planning application to the Scottish Government to build an additional gas burning power station at the same site. Whilst COP27 was taking place, BP exploited a Scottish Renewables event in Edinburgh to lobby MSPs about oil interests.

At COP26 in Glasgow, a Scottish Government banquet promoting hydrogen was held at Edinburgh Castle where the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met with Shell and BP, in addition to a meeting between Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes met oil company Equinor.

Further incidents revealed include:

  • In 2019, MSPs from four parties attended a meeting inside the Shell offices in Aberdeen one week before voting on Scotland’s new climate targets.
  • BP and other oil industry representatives have held fringe events with MSPs at every SNP conference since at least 2019.
  • Oil company Equinor had 19 meetings with Scottish officials, including two with then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in the months up to the approval of the controversial Rosebank oilfield.
  • Centrica lobbied the current Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition Màiri McAllan MSP at a special reception to mark the gas company’s sponsorship of Scottish Rugby at Murrayfield.
  • Lobbyists from BP and Drax paid for tables at the Holyrood Magazine Awards in 2019, 2021 and 2022 to lobby MSPs and Scottish Government officials to support fossil fuel interests.
  • Between them, BP, Shell, Centrica and SSE have met MSPs nearly 400 times.
  • Over 70 of the meetings, almost 10%, were with Michael Matheson MSP, who was Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport until 2023.

Oil companies “polluting Scotland’s politics”

Friends of the Earth Scotland fossil free campaigner Ric Lander said,

“Oil companies have been allowed to pollute Scotland’s politics for too long. The Scottish Government needs to wake up to the fact that fossil fuel firms are the main cause of climate breakdown and realise that their central aim is to block climate progress. These companies are waging a sustained and aggressive campaign to delay the climate solutions that will improve the lives of people in Scotland and around the world.

“Scottish Ministers have repeatedly failed to meet climate targets and do not have a credible just transition plan for energy workers. Instead of welcoming big polluters with open arms, the Scottish Government should be focused on building climate solutions and meeting with the workers and communities impacted to ensure the transition harnesses their skills and responds to their needs.”

“Healthcare experts realised the toxic influence of tobacco firms and rightly excluded them from access to decision makers; politicians must now realise the harm of fossil fuel companies and shut the door to them. Politicians were elected to serve the people, not the polluters.

“With the UN climate talks failing to deliver action on phase out, national Governments must redouble their efforts to end the supply and demand of fossil fuels this decade. If Humza Yousaf’s Government is truly serious about tackling the climate crisis and delivering a just transition, it must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry and ban them from lobbying.”

Notes to Editors

The “Polluted Politics: The fossil fuel lobby at Holyrood” report

The report contains further details on number of Ministerial and MSP meetings, which companies are lobbying the most, and highlights specific lobbying meetings.

The investigation uses two main sources: the Scottish Parliament Lobbying Register and the Scottish Government’s monthly “Ministerial engagements, travel and gifts” report. Where data appeared to be missing from these we have relied on additional sources from our own monitoring and the press.

Data from the Lobbying Register is reviewed comprehensively from the register’s inception in March 2018 until to May 2023, the most recent legal deadline for submissions when the analysis was conducted.

Although they were not yet required to do so, a number of companies and organisations had submitted lobbying data for summer 2023 when we reviewed the data, and we have included these entries, which run up to September 2023.

“Ministerial engagements, travel and gifts” reports are analysed from the previous Scottish Parliament election, May 2021 to September 2023.

Phone calls and voice-only online meetings (i.e. those where the video is switched off) are not required to be submitted to the Lobbying Register. This means the scale of lobbying could be far higher than is reported here.

World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control:

SSE have applied to build an additional fossil fuelled power station at the Peterhead site. They have admitted the two plants will increase emissions overall. The Scottish Government has the power to reject the proposal which risks locking Scotland into fossil fuel use for decades to come.

Friends of the Earth Scotland is:

* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 73 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.