Fossil fuel interests' influence in UN climate talks could be why no international agreement on reigning in carbon emissions has happened.
By Francesca Rheannon
What would you think if you heard that an international conference to stop child pornography was sponsored by the Man-Boy Love Association? Or, how about a conference for gun control with attendees sporting conference bags supplied by Smith and Wesson and the coffee and danish and other amenities supplied by Beretta? With the corporate logos of the major firearms manufacturers splashed all over the proceedings?
You’d think it was a joke, right?
COP 19 – Brought to You by Corporate Sponsors
But that is exactly the scenario played out at the COP 19 climate talks (and the pre-conference) in Warsaw last week. COP 19 was the first UN climate talks to have corporate sponsorship — and many of the “partners” of both the COP and the pre-COP negotiations were corporations that have funded climate denialists and fought hard to weaken emissions standards. Others were business associations with fossil fuel interests (or major users of fossil fuels, such as auto and steel) as prominent members.
A report by the Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute charges that the Polish government and the UNCCC welcomed fossil fuel sponsorship and influence in COP 19 to an unprecedented extent, calling into question the seriousness with which climate issues can be addressed by climate negotiators.
Civil Society Shut Out
Pascoe Sabido, author of the report “The COP 19 Guide To Corporate Lobbying,” told news program Democracy Now! that pre-negotiations in Warsaw invited only business, shutting out civil society entirely, as well as the press. “You had exclusive access to negotiators by business, so a real chance to set the agenda,” Sabido said.
Yet youth climate activists were barred from the climate talks after expressing solidarity with the Philippines victims reeling from super-typhoon Haiyan.
Many of the corporations “advising” on setting the negotiating agenda were deeply implicated in carbon emissions – and political efforts against controlling them. The climate talks themselves had 13 corporate sponsors, including General Motors and BMW, both of which have been accused of funding climate denialists and opposing robust emissions standards. Another major sponsor was steel giant Arcelor Mittal, which was nominated for Worst Climate Lobbyist in 2010 and is the subject of citizen lawsuits for its pollution of communities.
Adding insult to injury, the Polish government partnered with the World Coal Association to put on an “International Coal and Climate Summit” in Warsaw at the same time as COP 19. The Summit called for more mining and production of coal, under the fig leaf of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) — an exorbitantly expensive technology that shows little indication of being scalable and whose long term ability to sequester carbon is unproven. Investment in CCS diverts crucial resources from proven, scalable renewable technologies like wind and solar.
The World Coal Association touts as its goal “acceptance for the fundamental role coal plays in achieving a sustainable and lower carbon energy future.” Now, this is arrant nonsense. Anybody who is actually committed to “a sustainable and lower carbon energy future” knows that keeping coal stores in the ground is the only way we have a prayer of achieving that goal.
I suppose that one can’t expect the World Coal Association to refrain from trying to paint itself green. But the tragedy is that it is taken seriously by those who have the power to set climate policy.
The Dirty Little Secret of “Sustainable Business”
The acceptance of blatant hypocrisy and greenwashing by major polluters is the dirty little secret of the sustainable business community. Reading “The COP 19 Guide To Corporate Lobbying” brought to the surface my own unease about the sustainability claims made by so many major corporate players, who trumpet—and are lionized for—their green initiatives but whose core business model is anything but sustainable.
Wal-Mart, for example, has been praised as a leader in cutting carbon emissions —yet just last week, it was reported by the Institute For Local Self-Reliance that Wal-Mart’s emissions have soared 14%. Shell, BP, ArcelorMittal and BMW are members of COP 19 “partner” BusinessEurope, an organization that, according to the report,
“…was successful at preventing an increase of the EU’s 2020 emissions reduction target from 20% to 30%, with European Parliament sources naming BusinessEurope as one of the worst, most aggressive lobbies.”
Some of these companies – Shell, BP, ArcelorMittal and BMW, along with Duke Energy and Rio Tinto – are also members of the World Sustainable Business Council, which has long been a prominent and respected presence in the sustainable business community.
But who in that community is challenging these companies on their record of pollution and their fundamental unwillingness to stop adding to the carbon burden that is cooking the planet? How much credibility can “sustainable business” have with such prominent climate criminals as members?
Is the Triple Bottom Line Obsolete?
The Triple Bottom Line—Profits, People, Planet—has long been the rallying cry for sustainable business. But the evidence of corporate capture over the decision-making process on climate chaos – the most dire threat ever faced by human civilization – by those who stand to lose the most if serious action is undertaken raises the question: can we still afford to have “Profit” an equal partner to “People” and “Planet” in the Sustainability Equation? (In fact, as we all know, it is by far the privileged partner.)
Or is it time to shift the business model to “People and Planet First?” If sustainable business associations don’t hold their members to this, the highest standard of sustainability, they will lose all claims to credibility. And other businesses that are committed to true sustainability will find themselves tarred with the same greenwashing brush.