Campaigners are demanding rules halting the tobacco industry from influencing policy be adapted to protect the climate after it was revealed MSPs have held almost 800 meetings with fossil fuel lobbyists over two years.

The revelation shows that lobbyists from oil and gas giants have met more than once a day since the 2021 Holyrood election, including inside UN crunch climate talks.

Campaigners are demanding that rules that prevent the tobacco industry from lobbying health policy plans should be adapted to protect the environment from the “sustained and aggressive campaign” by fossil fuels companies.

The analysis by Friends of the Earth Scotland lays bare discussions between Holyrood politicians and fossil fuel chiefs at glitzy receptions and on foreign trips.

A total of 790 meetings between MSPs and fossil fuel companies or their trade bodies were uncovered in the study, the largest of its kind.

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 from campaigners about the influence of oil companies on Scotland’s efforts to tackle climate breakdown.

Campaigners have 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 activists are demanding that new rules are created in Scotland to defend climate policy from oil company influence including ending fossil fuel funding of UK political parties and public programmes, greater transparency of meetings, and measures to exclude the fossil fuel industry from the UN climate negotiations.

Friends of the Earth believe that rules currently in existence 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 and campaigners revealed more than 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance.

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 controversial planning application to the Scottish Government to build an additional gas burning power station at the same site.

Whilst COP27 was taking place, BP used 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 then first minister Nicola Sturgeon met with Shell and BP, in addition to a meeting between the finance secretary Kate Forbes and oil company Equinor, the firm behind the Rosebank development.

In 2019, MSPs from four parties, the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and the LibDems, attended a meeting inside the Shell offices in Aberdeen one week before voting on Scotland’s new climate targets.

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.

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 Ms Sturgeon, in the months up to the approval of the controversial Rosebank oilfield.

Centrica lobbied the current SNP Net Zero and Just Transition Secretary, Màiri McAllan, at a special reception to mark the company’s sponsorship of Scottish Rugby at Murrayfield.

Between them, BP, Shell, Centrica and SSE have met MSPs nearly 400 times.

More than 70 of the meetings, almost 10%, were with Michael Matheson, who was Net Zero and Energy Secretary until 2023.

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.”

Friends of the Earth has tabled new lobbying rules, based on restrictions put on the tobacco industry, that would mean “fossil fuel lobbyists have no opportunities to directly influence climate policy” and that “public officials or law makers should only meet with them on their own invitation as is necessary to implement a worker-led just transition, decommissioning, regulation or safety improvements, or in an emergency”.

The organisation has suggested that “all meetings and exchanges between public officials or law makers and the fossil fuel industry are made transparent by publishing minutes or video recordings within two weeks of the engagement taking place” as well as fossil fuel industry representatives being banned from “trade delegations or advisory bodies and commissions, especially those tasked with implementing climate policy”.

Friends of the Earth Scotland is also calling for rules meaning “MSPs, government, public bodies and political parties, including political party conferences, are prohibited from taking financial support, gifts and sponsorship from the fossil fuel industry”.

Mr Lander added: “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.”

Since 2018, more than half of the recorded meetings were with SNP MSPs and nearly a fifth of meetings took place with Conservatives, with the other parties making up the remainder.

Liam Kerr MSP, Conservative spokesperson for energy since 2019, met with fossil fuel lobbyists more times than any other opposition or backbench MSP. Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett was second and Labour MSP Lewis MacDonald third.

The research found 42 meetings where no MSP was present, of which 37 were meetings between fossil fuel interests and Scottish Government special advisors.

Mr Yousaf was put under pressure to say whether he met with any fossil fuel giants at COP28 amid concerns a record number of oil and gas giants were attending the climate summit.

The Scottish Government declined to say whether he met with fossil fuel giants in Abu Dhabi, but a Scottish Government spokesperson said “the First Minister has been clear that any further extraction and use of fossil fuels must be consistent with Scotland’s climate obligations and Just Transition commitments”.

The spokesperson added: “Our focus is on reducing emissions, meeting our energy security needs and delivering affordable energy supplies, whilst ensuring a just transition for our oil and gas workforce to a renewables and net zero future.

“As part of our support for this transition, the people of Scotland would expect the First Minister to engage constructively with major employers and industries in Scotland, as he does with all sectors of society.”

Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) external relations director, Jenny Stanning, said: “The decarbonisation of Scotland is one of the greatest opportunities and challenges of our time and will only be delivered through collaboration between public and private capital.

“Policy decisions and rhetoric made today will be felt for decades to come, so prioritising a transition which is homegrown instead of wholly imported is vital.  

“The reality of the energy transition is that we will need both oil and gas and renewables in an integrated system to deliver growth in Scotland and be an export powerhouse.

“It is essential to have the right investment conditions and environment in Scotland, through supportive policy, that unlocks £200 billion of energy investment over the next decade whilst attracting and retaining the skilled people vital to delivering the transition.

“We will continue to engage proactively with Scottish Government, and indeed politicians of all parties, to make sure we can fully grasp the opportunities of the energy transition and restore confidence to businesses so that investment is unlocked for a secure, strong, and diverse energy future.”