Environmentalists criticise COP28 role for lobbyist David Canzini

The organisers of this year’s UN climate talks in the United Arab Emirates have hired a controversial former Downing Street aide to Boris Johnson, prompting concern among some environmentalists.

Lobbyist David Canzini, who advised the ex-UK prime minister in his last few months in office, is working for COP28 on communications ahead of the climate summit in December in Dubai, according to several people briefed on the matter.

While in Number 10, Canzini opposed a windfall tax on oil and gas companies and pushed Johnson to take a less positive stance on onshore wind farms.

Canzini is working on COP28 alongside other staffers seconded from CT Group, the lobbying company set up by Australian political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, according to the people familiar with the matter. CT offers advice to industries including the oil and gas sector.

A rightwing strategist who has been involved with the UK’s ruling Conservative party for decades, Canzini was brought into Downing Street in February 2022 as Johnson’s deputy chief of staff five months before the then-prime minister was ousted following the “partygate” scandal.

He is a long-term ally of Crosby, who helped Johnson win two London mayoral elections and advised a number of Tory prime ministers. Canzini worked for CT Group before working at Number 10.

COP28 did not comment on Canzini’s appointment specifically but said it had “contracted CT Group to provide communications advice”, which included a group of three people embedded into its communications team.

A spokesperson for COP28 UAE added that its senior team contained people with significant renewable energy and climate policy expertise, including a former director-general of Irena, the international renewable energy agency.

CT Group does not publish its list of clients. However, the lobbying register for New South Wales in Australia, which has compulsory disclosure rules, shows it works for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association and BHP, which has mining and oil assets.

Earlier this year, the UAE faced criticism from climate campaigners after it named Sultan al-Jaber, head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the state-backed oil producer, as president-designate of COP28.

Since his appointment, Jaber — who was also at the forefront of the UAE’s early moves into renewable energy — has stressed the importance of involving the oil and gas industry in discussions about how to tackle global warming. The COP28 team is marshalling an alliance of the oil and gas industry as a flagship initiative at the summit, the Financial Times reported at the weekend.

Canzini’s appointment has heightened concerns among some environmentalists. Alice Harrison, campaign leader for fossil fuels at Global Witness, said COP28’s decision to hire Canzini seemed “very on-brand for a summit that is already looking set to be a polluter’s paradise”. 

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think-tank, said Canzini’s appointment posed “a real danger to global efforts to tackle climate change and the credibility of the summit”.

This year’s COP will feature a so-called global stocktake, when countries assess their progress in meeting emissions cuts aimed at limiting global temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels.

It was not clear whether Canzini’s work for COP28 was directly through CT Group or through his own communications agency called Canzini Direction, which he set up in December, according to Companies House.

Canzini and CT Group did not respond to requests for comment.