Get “dirty energy” sponsors out of Paris climate talks

When world leaders flock to Paris this December to hammer out a new accord to fight climate change, there’s a danger the process will again be hijacked by the polluters.

Follow the money and see why the COP21 talks may not deliver.


It’s all in the name: COP21. The twenty-first time countries have not solved the problem. Instead, things have progressively moved backwards, while the influence of big business over the UN process has grown.

At COP19 in Warsaw, oil and gas companies – responsible for climate change – actually sponsored the talks, while the COP19 President, Poland, co-organised a counter-summit with the coal industry. This year in Paris, polluters are set to sponsor once more.

The UN has itself proactively worked to bring business – including the fossil fuel industries – into the talks.

Those same industries have also pushed to increase their presence. That’s because tackling climate change would mean leaving more than four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, undermining their business model. Not too popular among shareholders, which include most pension funds.

Nor with the banks, who earn large profits from lending to dirty energy projects. Or amongst energy-intensive industries that rely on cheap fossil fuels, or those that use them to make products such as plastics or chemicals. As the old saying goes, “it’s the economy, stupid,” and fossil fuels are at the heart of it.

Moving away from them would make losers out of some of the most powerful interests in society.

In turn, these big businesses have done all they can to block progress – from undermining the science to proposing pie-in-the-sky techno-fixes (or straight-up PR spin, like “clean coal”) that ensure they can keep profiting from trashing the climate.

They deserve the label of “corporate climate criminals.”

But failure should not be laid at the door of the UN talks themselves (although the organisers, including chief Christiana Figueres, have played an important role). The failure is a symptom of a national problem: our governments turn up to the talks with their positions already shaped by dirty energy companies.

US reticence is unsurprising, given US politics is awash in oil and gas money.

Canada’s polluting tar sands have had similar impact there on their commitment to tackling climate change.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The tobacco industry was doing the same thing to the UN tobacco control talks, so the UN’s World Health Organisation introduced a firewall between tobacco lobbyists and public health officials.

No more sponsorship, no more lobby meetings, no more participation in negotiations. No more access. And not just at the international level but the national level.

We need to take similar steps against the corporate climate criminals, and many groups heading to Paris will be making such a call, because the same industries causing climate change have no right to be alongside the decision-makers trying to tackle it. But action only comes through public pressure, from our elected leaders feeling strong enough to stand up to vested interests.

If Paris can create that pressure, while the agreed text won’t save the climate, it could mark the beginning of the end for the excessive lobbying influence of dirty industries and their grip over politics and our economy.

Only then can we design the fair and just transition for workers, women, indigenous peoples, peasant farmers and everyone else based on social, economic and climate justice.