Big Oil v. Big Marches, Who’s Driving Paris?

As global leaders, scientists and advocates gather in Paris to commence the final negotiations that will determine the outcome of the final treaty and nations’ commitments toward emission reduction, climate mitigation and adaptation measures, it is necessary to examine who exactly is pushing for what agenda at the Conference of Parties, 2015. On one hand, there is a fierce, informed and undaunted civil society and the scientific community trying to convince the powers that be to arrive at a binding treaty strictly limiting emissions. On the other hand, a there is a massive lobby, comprising several big oil companies who are not only major influencers in the climate control game, but some are also actually sponsoring the Summit.

As Nick Fillmore reports, that there is clear contrast with the amount of space afforded to both influencing groups. While civil society and public interest organisations will largely be present at the fringes of the negotiations, corporations are hosting over ten major special events for government officials.

As the COP21 is hosted in Paris, several French corporations with reprehensible climate track records are sponsoring and donating to the summit, such as EDF (coal) and BNP Paribas (coal-financier), Suez (wastewater treatment from fracking and mining).

The climate  negotiations by their very structure so far have been very inclusive of corporate voices, and companies like Shell, BP, Dow Chemical which are major players in the dirty energy field, will also have adequate attendance at the summit, if not a seat directly at the negotiations. For example, Shell and BHP, partnered with McKinsey and Company to advise governments on climate policy.

In InfluenceMap’s Report on Big Oil and the Obstruction of Climate Regulations, we can clearly see that although oil companies might project a positive outlook towards binding emissions reductions, they are invariably aligned with several trade bodies and pressure groups which are striving for quite the contrary. Shell and Total are especially guilty of such misalignment.

The Corporate Europe Observatory’s Report titled, “The Corporate Cookbook: How Climate Criminals have Captured COP 21” aptly describes how “World leaders have been lining up to proclaim business the key player in tackling climate change, participating in their conferences and creating new platforms for their involvement.”

Corporate Accountability International’s Report titled “Fuelling the Fire: The Big Polluters Bankrolling COP21, further analyses the inherent conflict of interest in allowing the major culprits in global warming to pay for the event which will determine their eventual demise.

On the other hand, public support for strong climate action is stronger than ever before. Across the world, people are taking out marches, demonstrations trying to convince their governments to agree to a strong and binding treaty at COP21 if we are to have a realistic chance of surviving the climate catastrophe.  A campaign called Kick Big Polluters Out this week, is trying to draw attention to the fact that major climate culprits are paying for and trying to influence the outcomes of the summit. Today, as protest marches were banned within the city of Paris for security reasons, over 22000 pairs of shoes were placed at the Place de la Republique including those of His Holiness the Pope, to express the seriousness with which the public is demanding a solid treaty at Paris.

In the midst of this dichotomy, wherein public pressure demands that governments agree to strong climate action measures, while corporate pressure would preserve the status quo, how governments will eventually decide is a question of concern. While heeding to public demand is always prudent for elected governments who intend on staying in power and have their electorate place faith in them, the incestuous relationships between the corporate sector and governments, are worrisome in their potential to impact the talks. If any of the public interest reports are to be believed, the Big Oil and dirty energy companies have already succeeded in setting the entire premise of COP21, and that it is in their utmost interest to see to it that the Treaty is weak or a complete failure.

In the past couple of years there has been increasing opinion about how changing markets will influence carbon reductions, and how the solution likes in making businesses more sustainable. The word ‘sustainable’ has been bandied about to an extent that it has lost its meaning and become a misnomer. A business can be sustainable if it can recover its costs with enough profit. More often than not this is in direct contrast with the ability of the planet to sustain itself from such business outcomes. Instead of repeated hackneyed buzzwords to justify corporate involvement in our climate decisions, it is necessary to create a safe distance between the COP21 tents and the marketplace. For a situation that has arisen solely out of harmful trade practices and destructive consumer choices, to assume that the solution will also magically present itself from the market seems farcical. And that should be employed across the board. All clean energy isn’t faultless. Clean technology and energy companies should also not be allowed to influence the discussions, because anybody who stands to directly profit from governmental decisions should be kept at a safe distance, if we are to truly achieve a strong treaty which is good for not only the environment, but also existing social inequalities in energy consumption.

Pierre Henri Guignard, the Secretary General of the U.N. Summit said, “we are building a very business friendly COP.” With assurances like these, the battle seems lost before it’s fought. Hopefully, the COP21, like the motto of the city of Paris is Fluctuat nec mergitur.



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