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Davos 2023: Big Oil in sights of climate activist protests

Young Socialists Switzerland (JUSO) activists take part in a protest against the World Economic Forum (WEF), calling for a climate tax on the rich, on the eve of the WEF annual meeting in Davos, on Jan 15, 2023. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

DAVOS, Switzerland – Big oil firms came under pressure at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) from activists who accused them of hijacking the climate debate, while a Greta Thunberg-sponsored "cease and desist" campaign gained support on social media.

Major energy firms including BP, Chevron and Saudi Aramco are among the 1,500 business leaders gathering for the annual meeting in the Swiss resort of Davos, where global threats including climate change are on the agenda.

"We are demanding concrete and real climate action," said Nicolas Siegrist, the 26-year-old organizer of the protest who also heads the Young Socialists party in Switzerland.

The "cease and desist" campaign demands energy company CEOs "immediately stop opening any new oil, gas, or coal extraction sites, and stop blocking the clean energy transition we all so urgently need", and threatens legal action and more protests if they fail to comply

The annual meeting of global business and political leaders opens in Davos on Monday.

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"They will be in the same room with state leaders and they will push for their interests," Siegrist said of the involvement of energy companies during a demonstration attended by several hundred people on Sunday.

The oil and gas industry has said that it needs to be part of the energy transition as fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in the world's energy mix as countries shift to low carbon economies.

On Monday, a social media campaign added to the pressure on oil and gas companies, by promoting a "cease and desist" notice sponsored by climate activists Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate and Luisa Neubauer, through the non-profit website Avaaz.

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It demands energy company CEOs "immediately stop opening any new oil, gas, or coal extraction sites, and stop blocking the clean energy transition we all so urgently need", and threatens legal action and more protests if they fail to comply.

Young Socialists Switzerland (JUSO) activists take part in a protest against the World Economic Forum (WEF), calling for a climate tax on the rich, on the eve of the WEF annual meeting in Davos, on Jan 15, 2023. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

The campaign, which had been signed by more than 660,000 people, had almost 200,000 shares on Monday morning.

Sumant Sinha, who heads one of India's largest renewable energy firms, said it would be good to include big oil companies in the transition debate as they have a vital role to play.

"If oil people are part of these conversations to the extent that they are also committing to change then by all means. It is better to get them inside the tent than to have them outside the tent," Sinha, chairman and CEO of ReNew Power, told Reuters, saying that inclusion should not lead to "sabotage".

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Rising interest rates have made it harder for renewable energy developments to attract financing, giving traditional players with deep pockets a competitive advantage.

As delegates began to arrive in Davos, Debt for Climate activists protested at a private airport in eastern Switzerland, which they said would be used by some WEF attendees, and issued a statement calling for foreign debts of poorer countries to be canceled in order to accelerate the global energy transition.