It’s no secret that the corporations contributing most deeply to climate change are particularly good at lobbying. What you might not know is that they’ve also embedded themselves in every layer of decision-making within the United Nations’ climate change arm. These corporations sit on government delegations and have unfettered access to delegates through their trade associations. And they even sponsor treaty negotiations (more on that later).
It’s no wonder, then, that treaty talks are in the state they’re in. And perhaps even less surprising is that the road to Paris has been paved with a flurry of declarations of new partnerships between governments and corporations, promising a panacea (i.e. more of the same) for reducing carbon emissions.
For all the bureaucratic intricacies of the U.N., it may just be this simple housecleaning that changes the course of this troubled process upon which the weight of the world rests. To that end, here are the eight things to know and follow in the weeks ahead:
1. In September, Royal Dutch Shell, General Electric, and coal-mining behemoth BHP Billiton launched the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) to lobby governments on “how to combat global warming without weakening their economies.” Who better to halt climate change than corporations like Shell that have, according to energy industry watchdog Carbon Tracker, “been producing scenarios for decades…to drive an energy transition, but never delivered?” Look for the ETC to be on the prowl in Paris.
2. In October, under the auspices of the new Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a host of corporations including BP, Shell, and Statoil committed to “play their part” in ensuring a “2 degree Celsius future.” As Greenpeace campaigner Charlie Kronick put it to the Guardian, “arsonists don’t make good firefighters.” But while vague and non-binding, trust that these corporations will use the initiative to position themselves in Paris as the solution to a problem of their creation.
3. While global governments negotiate our collective climate future, the host country is inviting the public to explore a free “solutions” exhibition brought to you by fracking giant Engie, Renault-Nissan, and more. Nothing like a climate treaty negotiation to give a PR bump to environmentally damaging corporations.
4. Even better if you’re a corporation with a large carbon footprint — why not just sponsor the treaty talks themselves? Air France, BNP-Paribas (a leading coal industry financier), Renault-Nissan, Engie, and Suez Environnement are among the negotiation’s “sponsors.” No, this isn’t fiction.
5. On December 5, corporations with a troubling record of human rights, public health, and environmental abuses will be heralded by U.N. and government leaders for so-called progress toward their own non-binding carbon emission reduction goals. The “Action Day,” organized under the auspices of the U.N.-backed Lima-Paris Action Agenda, is yet another example of how corporations aim to supplant binding, governmental climate policy with weak — and largely ineffectual — voluntary initiatives. Shouldn’t our leaders be setting carbon limits based on climate science rather than what’s convenient and economically advantageous to the world’s biggest polluters?
6. Beyond all the glad-handing, back-slapping, and greenwashing, there is also the direct lobbying. Negotiators will be asked to surface climate solutions in a space dominated by trade associations and front groups like BUSINESSEUROPE. Like other lobbies in the space, BUSINESSEUROPE publicly acknowledges climate change, but has long undermined policy that would address it.
7. Despite deeply entrenched corporate capture of climate talks, there is a well-established and highly effective precedent for “kicking big polluters out.” In 2008, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control enshrined in international law recognition of the “fundamental and irreconcilable” conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and governments’ public health goals. Industry lobbyists have been barred from negotiations. Revolving doors between industry and regulatory bodies have been closed. Industry has been prevented from crafting international, national, and local policies. What’s more, these good governance principles have paved the way for public health policies globally that are already saving countless lives.
8. In the lead-up to Paris, civil society from Kenya to Colombia to Uganda has mobilized around a call led by Corporate Accountability International* to apply this precedent to the U.N.’s climate negotiations,and the number of individuals and organizations behind this call is growing (400,000+ and 45+, respectively, as of November 1). With this growing global mobilization and the omnipresent corporate interference at home and within the negotiating process, look for governments to pick up the baton. The recent round of negotiations in Bonn was a sobering reminder of the influence of industry interests on Global North negotiating positions. With so much at stake, governments are realizing that kicking the industry out of “the room” is a prerequisite for creating the political space to address their priorities, including finance, adaptation, and loss and damage.
*Jesse Bragg is the media director at Corporate Accountability International, a group that is organizing against corporate influence in the Paris climate talks.