By Ruchika Agarwal:
In December 2015, the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convened to address global climate change. The result of this high-profile and highly anticipated meet was the historic Paris Climate Deal. One of the key elements of this agreement was that the nearly 200 complying countries will limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally between 2050 and 2100.
According to the EPA, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is from burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation. Therefore it makes sense that of dozens of sponsors of this event, four stood out. According to a report by Corporate Accountability International (CAI), Engie, Électricité de France (EDF), Suez Environment and BNP Paribas own more than 46 coal-fired power plants around the world, which include investments in oil sands exploration and fracking for shale gas. It is also no surprise that Engie, the French energy giant which owns 30 dirty coal plants, was present in Paris to say that renewable energy is not the answer to the world’s impending climate doom.
These financial interests of these sponsors go against the moral focus of the negotiations, and Patti Lynn, Executive Director of CAI, allowing them to sponsor and participate in COP meetings is “akin to hiring a fox to guard a henhouse.” Evidence shows that she may be right.
In the past, the fossil fuel industry has spent large amounts of money to deny the dangers of climate change. A 2015 discovery showed that ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, knew of climate change years before it became a public issue. The company also spent more than $30 million on think tanks and researchers to forward climate change denial. More recently, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) uncovered a trove of documents that prove that America’s oil and and natural gas industry was well aware of the consequences of burning fossil fuels from as early as 1957 and yet continued to work to undermine public confidence in climate science.
EDF, one of the sponsors for COP21, alongside ExxonMobil and Shell, is an active member of BusinessEurope, a group that is known to obstruct and lag in adapting EU climate policies. BNP Paribas is one of the largest financiers for fossil fuel expansion globally. It provided €15 billion between 2005 and 2014 to France’s coal industry, and is the major force behind Canada’s tar sands extraction.
Yet, the fossil fuel industry faces no restrictions on influencing and interacting with policy makers on climate legislation. And they take full advantage of that. EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Change, Miguel Arias Cañete’s meeting records at COP21 show that he had six times as many encounters with fossil fuel interests as renewables or energy efficiency advocates.
In order to solve this problem, the UNFCCC can look towards the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that faced a similar situation with the global tobacco industry as they fought to preserve public health and reduce tobacco consumption worldwide. Once the FCTC recognised the conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and those of the Convention, they included a provision, called Article 5.3, that prescribes a set of guidelines to help governments protect policymaking from tobacco industry at the national level.
Letting a group that heavily profits from fossil fuels fund, participate in climate negotiations that are trying to solve the problems created by fossil fuels is counterproductive and counterintuitive. Especially when that group has a track record of misleading and swaying public opinion in order to continue profiting from the destruction of the Earth’s future. The UNFCCC needs to take example from the FCTC and establish its own version of Article 5.3 and limit the influence and voice of the fossil fuel industry. That is the only way to ensure that the integrity of the negotiations is maintained in the upcoming COP-22 in Marrakech.