As leaders from around the world head to Paris in December for the COP21 UN climate negotiations, they do so with the burdensome knowledge that this is it: the big year. More than 190 nations will try to reach an internationally binding climate agreement to prevent the globe from warming to catastrophic levels.
Such high stakes haven’t pressed upon the negotiations since 2009’s Copenhagen climate summit, widely regarded as a failure after wearied countries fled the conference without producing a strong international agreement.
Perhaps that’s why this year there is little patience for the influence peddling of the world’s major fossil fuel companies, all of which are eager to play a role in the conversation.
Nearly 400,000 people have signed a petition to bar “big polluters” from the talks.
The petition, organized by Corporate Accountability International, argues the summit should be protected from corporate interests and becoming a platform for companies intending to “block progress, push false solutions and continue the disastrous status quo.”
The petition is just one of a number of public efforts designed to showcase the negative influence of industry groups on climate talks, their historic bad behaviour and a growing international impatience for meaningful climate action.
Corporate Bad Behaviour in Spotlight
The recent effort to limit the influence of industry at the upcoming talks come on the heels of an allegation that ExxonMobil intentionally deceived the public about the dangers of climate change.
Recent investigations reveal Exxon knew about the existence of ‘potentially catastrophic’ climate change since the 1970s but chose to keep that information hidden. The company is being widely criticized for misleading the public about the influence of human activity and the use of fossil fuels on the global climate.
Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, leading presidential candidates for the Democratic party, as well as house Democrats have called for an official investigation of Exxon and now leading environmental groups, civil rights organizations and climate campaigners among others are spearheading an international call for further investigation.
Companies like Exxon are being spotlighted by Friends of the Earth France in a new ‘Pinocchio Climate Award,’ which targets industry groups most responsible for preventing or delaying action on climate.
The nominees are corporate sponsors of the COP21 climate talks, including BNP-Paribas, EDF and Engie — all of which will be judged in the Pinocchio Awards for their lobbying activities, promotion of false climate solutions and harmed caused to communities for the sake of profit. The ‘winners’ for each category will be announced at a public ceremony in Paris during the climate talks.
Industry’s “Charm Offensive” Little Help Against Critics
While members of the public cast their votes cast against major industrial polluters, companies also face an increased level of scrutiny for public relations stunts seemingly designed to purchase social favour in the lead up to Paris.
InfluenceMap, an organization that tracks the lobbying and activities of industry groups, called the initiative an attempt by leading energy companies to “improve their image in the face of longstanding criticism of their business practices” ahead of the talks.
A recent report by InfluenceMap shows many top companies in the oil and gas sector publicly support climate action but subvert those same efforts through anti-climate lobbying and the work of trade organizations.
In September a group of European investor institutions worth a collective $66 billion called on nine multinational companies to sever relationships with EU trade groups known to lobby against climate policy. The companies pressured to cut ties with the anti-climate lobby include COP21 sponsor EDF as well as BHP Billiton, BP, Glencore, Johnson Matthey, Proctor and Gamble, Rio Tinto, Statoil and Total.
Corporate Europe Observatory, an organization exposing lobby power in the EU, has already criticized the “climate unfriendly” sponsors of this year’s event, indicating France may be making a critical mistake in welcoming corporate influence.
"Most of these companies are big emitters of the very greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, such as EDF or Engie whose coal plants alone are equivalent to nearly half of France's entire emissions," said Malika Peyraut of Friends of the Earth.
“Putting the most important climate conference of the decade under the patronage of climate-incompatible businesses does not bode well.”
Fossil Fuel Industry’s Controversial Influence at Climate Talks
Pushback against industry influence at the UN climate talks has been ongoing for years.
In 2011, the Polaris Institute released a report outlining how “multinational corporations and their lobbyists have infiltrated the United Nations and are influencing the outcomes of climate negotiations.”
The report demonstrated industry’s influence as a driving force behind market-based rather than regulatory solutions to climate change.
In 2013, civil society groups, trade unions and environmental organizations staged a massive walk out of the climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, arguing corporate sponsorship was threatening the independence and purpose of the event.
Last year at the COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru, more than 53,000 individuals signed a document that called on the UN Climate Secretariat to ban fossil fuel corporations and lobby organizations from the talks.
“The fossil fuel industry is actively lobbying against climate action and standing in the way of progress. When you’re trying to burn the table down, you don’t deserve a seat at it,” Hoda Baraka, global communications manager for 350.org, said at the time.