Published by: Corporate Europe Observatory, 3 December 2015
Written by: Rachel Tansey
CEO’s recent work exposing big business and dirty industry’s lobbying and greenwashing at the EU and UNFCCC levels is part of the mounting evidence for why we must kick big polluters out of climate policy-making. Companies that profit from polluting and have a vested interest in the continued exploitation of fossil fuels have no place influencing talks designed to move us away from dirty energy. At the UN talks on tobacco control they kicked big tobacco out of public health policy-making at the international and national level. The same needs to happen for climate. Today, this is a call repeated by activists at COP21, and by hundreds of thousands of people around the world in a petition to kick #BigPollutersOut, being handed to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.
EU policy-makers in bed with polluters: Corporate capture starts at home, with the privileged access and excessive industry influence over national governments and EU climate policy-making. The capture of the UN climate system, of COP21 and its predecessors, is a logical result of things going wrong at national and EU levels. In Brussels, CEO has shown time after time how the game is fixed – dirty energy and polluting industries are in bed with EU policy makers, but their cosy relationship is costing the earth. Cooking the planet: Big Energy’s year of privileged access to Europe’s climate commissioners shows that, in their first year, three quarters of their encounters with the energy sector were with the fossil fuel industry. For every meeting the Commissioner for Climate, Miguel Arias Cañete, had with the renewable energy industry he had 22 with the fossil fuel industry. With this level of privileged access given to the very industry the climate talks should be putting out of business, it is no surprise the EU’s negotiating position falls far short of what needs to be done.
Another reason why the interests of those who are supposed to be representing the public interest (i.e. the regulators) and those who are profiting from polluting (i.e. the regulated) have become so blurred is the revolving door between big energy and the EU institutions. Staff taking their knowledge and contacts built up in the public sector to lobby on behalf of private commercial interests (and vice versa), as another recent CEO expose demonstrates. This all-too-cosy relationship is partly why the EU clings to its failed flagship climate policy, the Emission’s Trading Scheme (ETS), a carbon market that has enriched polluters, failed to reduce domestic emissions and blocked more effective climate policies. It is clear that for ambitious and fair climate policies to come from the EU, policy-making must be safeguarded from the vested interests of polluters.
UNFCCCing believable: UN climate conferences – as our work in previous years has shown – have been increasingly captured by the very industries they should be putting out of business. In Lobby Planet Paris – a guide to corporate COP21, you can get the low down on the lobbying and greenwashing around the Paris climate talks. From the talks’ official partners, like dirty energy companies Engie (formerly GDF Suez) and EDF (which together own 46 coal plants around the world, emitting 151 million tons of greenhouse gases each year), Suez Environment (whose business interests in treating waste-water from coal mining and fracking underpin its support for dirty energy, including as part of a pro-fracking lobby group), and major financiers of fossil fuels BNP Paribas and Generali. To the main lobbying hotspots in the city, where the likes of Volkswagen (which not only cheated-emissions tests to pretend its cars were cleaner, but has fostered close ties with EU policy-makers to weaken environmental laws), climate denial-funder ExxonMobil and fossil fuel greenwashers Total and Shell, can be found. Companies whose commercial interests in keeping dirty energy profitable, and whose track records of lobbying against ambitious and binding climate action, show their interests are fundamentally at odds with the goals of the climate talks, and so shouldn’t be permitted to influence them.
Many of the polluters’ narratives present at COP21 are laid bare in our Corporate cookbook: How climate criminals have captured COP21, which exposes the damaging reality behind their myths:
- “Gas will save us” – dirty energy companies painting gas as a clean fossil fuel threatens to lock us in to polluting energy instead of building a renewable future. ExxonMobil claims gas is the “only energy source which significantly reduced emissions” and fracking is “low carbon” – when fracked gas can be worse than coal!
- “Climate smart agriculture to the rescue” – a corporate con rebranding outdated chemical- and energy-intensive industrial agriculture. Pushed by the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA – 60% of its business members are fertiliser industry) and seeds giants Monsanto and Syngenta – ie companies driving land grabs, deforestation and biodiversity loss through intensive farming and GM crops.
- “Climate action is important but it mustn’t threaten economic growth” – the ultimate nonsense being advocated by big business lobbies like Business Europe (members include BP, Total, EDF and Engie) and the European Roundtable of Industrialists (CEOs of ArcelorMittal, BASF, BMW, Shell etc): it ignores the fact that we can change the rules of the economy, but we cannot change the rules of physics that govern our climate.
The consequence of buying into these – and many other – false solutions wrapped in climate-friendly rhetoric, is that fossil fuels will continue to be burned, dangerous and dirty industries will fail to change, and the power (and profits) will stay in the hands of multinational corporations. Which is precisely why corporate climate criminals shouldn’t be given a stage to perform on, or a seat at the table, in and around climate-policy making.
But instead of protecting climate policy from the influence of polluters, these recipes for a polluter’s paradise (and a climate crisis) are being promoted at a myriad of business events taking place in and around the Paris talks. One example is Solutions COP21 – opening tomorrow at the Grand Palais – a massive greenwashing expo officially endorsed by COP21, which offers big business and dirty industry the chance to promote their techno-fix and market-based false “solutions”. Corporate climate criminals pay big money to sponsor the event and buy privileged access to policy-makers, including Engie (which spent €2.5 lobbying the EU last year, fighting hard against important EU renewables and energy efficiency targets), Avril Sofriproteol (a proponent of agrofuels, which drive deforestation, land grabs and hunger, whose its biotech-loving CEO is buddies with French President Hollande) and Renault-Nissan (which chairs auto-industry lobby group ACEA, which aggressively fought tougher laws on car emissions at EU-level).
With glossy marketing and nice words, dirty companies like these seek to distract from the negative impacts of their core activities, hide behind the real solutions of small players, and hoodwink policy-makers and the public into believing they are responsible climate champions that don’t need regulating. But the evidence shows their real goal is to protect their business models and profits, regardless of the effect on the climate or peoples’ livelihoods. It is absurd that companies with a vested interest in continuing the neo-liberal, profiting-from-polluting status quo are given a platform to greenwash their activities, and subvert and undermine the climate agenda.
Trading away our climate: The closely linked agendas of corporate lobbies influencing climate and trade policy are another burning issue, as explored in Dirty hands on dirty deals, which shows how COP21 and EU-US trade agreement TTIP are being shaped by the same big business interests. For example, the fossil-energy-heavy chemicals industry’s EU lobby CEFIC demands TTIP opens the door to shale gas imports and fracking. At the same time it lobbies for COP21 to avoid “distorting competition in global markets” ie to ignore the greater responsibility to make deeper emissions cuts for rich, industrialised countries – and their corporations – one of the key tenets of climate justice.
As a result of this corporate capture, both sets of negotiations threaten the welfare of people and the planet, with TTIP offering a box of tricks for corporate climate criminals to hamper the necessary transformation. From investor protection mechanisms (private corporate courts) that would allow companies to sue governments for introducing environmental measures that would cut their anticipated profits. To the introduction of a ‘regulatory cooperation body’, a demand of corporate lobbies – like BusinessEurope and agrifood lobby FoodDrinkEurope – to co-write regulations before national parliaments are involved, and therefore stop any new regulations that could be ‘barriers to trade’. This could strangle our ability to foster the needed energy transition by helping corporations tangle up or kill regulations they don’t like e.g. laws to make investment in coal more costly. It is not only climate policy that needs protecting from the manipulations of powerful companies, but related policy-areas that have the ability to derail climate action, like trade.
Kick the polluters out: In order to take action to avoid climate catastrophe in a fair and peaceful way, we must end the insidious influence of polluters. Short term profit-oriented corporations whose business models structurally require them to pollute, to burn fossil fuels, or to encourage endless growth and consumption regardless of the effects on people or planet, should not be setting the agenda. The mosquito doesn’t get an invite to the anti-malaria conference, the arsonist isn’t accepted into fire department, and the tobacco company is not welcome at public health meetings. In fact, tobacco companies are not – by law – allowed anywhere near public-health policy-making, because it is recognised that there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest between their goals: reducing use of, and harm from, tobacco vs selling more tobacco products.
The same irreconcilable conflict applies to the goals of climate policy-makers and polluting industries: rapidly reducing emissions vs profiting from polluting business models. Yet the companies that have made millions from bringing us to the brink of global disaster have artfully positioned themselves as part of the solution. CEO’s work exposing the reality behind the greenwash and the undue influence of polluting industries, helps demonstrate why polluters should not get a seat at the table. To protect climate policy from vested interests, the UNFCCC should learn from the UN World Health Organisation (WHO)’s tobacco treaty. Following decades of misinformation and manipulation, a civil society campaign rooted in the global south took on big tobacco (and the governments advocating on its behalf) in the early 2000s. They campaigned to get the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to include a provision which would protect the treaty talks from the tobacco industry. They succeeded. The treaty’s Article 5.3 bans the tobacco industry from having a role or voice in setting health policy – at national, regional or international level. This 5.3 provision has enabled and created space for tobacco control policies that are really working to protect public health (like smoking bans, graphic warnings on cigarette packets, plain packaging, etc), showing just what an effective – and necessary – step it has been.
The same logic and necessity applies to fossil fuels and dirty industry influence in climate policy. Hundreds of the thousands of people have signed a petition to kick the polluters out, spearheaded by Corporate Accountability International and Environmental Rights Action (ERA ), two organisations instrumental in the fight against big tobacco. ERA is also a long-time campaigner against environmental injustice in Nigeria, which this year commemorates the 20th anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution, tireless environmental activist and outspoken critic of Shell. Today, this petition is being presented to UNFCCC Secretary General Christiana Figueres at COP21 (but you can still add your name to the petition here), following a civil society action at the conference venue demanding that big polluters are kicked out. Elsewhere in Paris, the winners of the Pinnocchio awards are being announced – with Shell one of nine greenwashing companies that were nominated for violating human rights, polluting the environment, and lobbying against the climate.
In order to open the doors to the real solutions being pioneered by communities around the world, solutions which empower people and cool the planet, we must start by kicking the polluters out from climate policy.