Fossil fuel lobby seen as main threat to meaningful progress at Paris climate talks
In the early-1950s, when it became widely known that smoking caused cancer, giant tobacco companies formed the Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC). Its main goal was to deny the harmful effects of tobacco and confuse the public.
The tobacco lobby wormed its way into the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), wreaking havoc and slowing the WHO’s efforts to reduce the growing number of cancer deaths.
Realizing that the tobacco corporations were obstructing progress, the WHO finally built a firewall between public health officials and industry lobbyists. Only then was it possible to better control tobacco.
Flash forward to Paris and the 21st annual UN Climate Conference, November 30 to December 11 . The 190 participating countries are charged with trying to hold carbon emissions to liveable limits between the years 2020 and 2030.
But – just like when the tobacco lobby was powerful – the fossil fuel lobby is strongly influencing decisions to be made in Paris.
Pointing to the struggling world economic situation, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) says climate change is important, but it should not jeopardize economic growth.
But scientists say that the human race cannot continue to function in a near-normal way unless about 80 per cent of the remaining fossil fuels are left in the ground.
The corporations oppose government regulations, and their main goal is to have the marketplace determine the amount of carbon emissions. However, public interest groups believe that industry will serve its own interests for profits instead of prioritizing the reduction of carbon emissions.
While public interest groups will be kept mainly on the sidelines, corporations are being allowed to hold at least 10 special events for government officials. Names of some of the sessions: “Business and Climate: A positive revolution for companies?”; “The Future is Looking Up”; and “Energy for Tomorrow.”
In addition, some of France’s dirtiest corporations are official sponsors and donors for COP21. Included are nuclear and coal giants EDF, energy utility corporation Engie, coal-financing bank BNP Paribas, and airline Air France.
Some of the very corporations driving global warming will be represented in Paris. Included will be Shell, BP, Volkswagen, Monsanto, Total, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Syngenta, Nestles, McDonalds, Walmart and others.
Fossil fuel companies have not managed to get a much coveted seat at the actual negotiating table during COP decision-making. But they are lobbying so hard that they hope politicians will come up with pro-industry solutions.
Meanwhile, a growing number of public interest groups want the fossil fuel lobby barred from the UN process.
“When you’re trying to burn down the table,” says Hoda Baraka of the protect group 350.org, “you don’t deserve a seat at it.”
NGOs have launched a campaign, Kick the Polluters Out and are planning demonstrations in Paris. Close to a half-million people signed the protest document over a short period of time.
But, at the present time at least, it would be very difficult to get the fuel lobby organizations out of the climate change process.
The corporations are very influential. Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), scolded fossil critics, telling them to “stop demonizing oil and gas companies.”
In what critics consider a betrayal of the climate control effort, many UN experts move over to the private sector. According to the Corporate Europe Observatory, this revolving door helps business strongly influence the COP process.
At the national level, because oil, coal and other fossil fuel corporations are so wealthy and so important to national economies, corporations are able to intimidate governments from taking the best possible carbon reduction pledges to Paris. For instance, corporations are successful in interfering with the plans of the highly influential U.S. government.
In October, the European Parliament expressed concern that an early analysis of government pledges indicated the temperature would increase between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius. An increase within this range would be near disastrous.
The European Parliament called on governments to agree in Paris next week to revise the projections downward before 2020 to keep the increase to 2 degrees Celsius, which is now the target recommended by scientists.
Nick Fillmore is a Canadian freelance journalist who has won awards for his coverage of environmental issues. Nick worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in several editorial capacities for close to 30 years, and is a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He likes to hear from readers: firstname.lastname@example.org