Can Europe Make It?

Foxes in the hen house: COP21 fuelled by four of Europe's worst drivers

Some of Europe's worst contributors to climate change are sponsoring COP21. Let’s bring power back to the people. Climate change is too big an issue to be kidnapped by corporate interests.

Charlotte Flechet
4 December 2015
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'Clean me COP21. Let's go fossil free.' A participant in London's climate change march appeals to leaders of COP21. Alisdare Hickson/flickr. Some rights reserved.The opening of the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) on Sunday kick-started what is hoped to be a ground breaking UN climate negotiation session. For the fossil fuel industry and its supporters it also signals the start of a two-week greenwashing and fierce lobbying effort.

Last Monday, the report ‘Fuelling the Fire - The corporate sponsors bankrolling COP21’, published by Corporate Accountability International, shed some light on the relationship between certain official partners of COP and fossil fuel activity.

Few people may know this but some of COP21’s main financial sponsors – Engie, EDF, Suez Environnement and BNP Paribas – are among Europe’s worst contributors to climate change.

Together they possess, or have directly invested in, 46 coal-fired power stations around the world. They are active in highly controversial hydraulic fracturing in the UK and extremely polluting tar sands exploitation in Alberta, Canada. These four companies are responsible for the emission of 200 megatons of CO2 per year, more than Argentina’s annual greenhouse gas emissions (GES).

Last May, the president of COP21, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, declared that the expected cost of the COP would average € 170 million. This was necessary to ensure the appropriate logistics required to host the 40,000 delegates. He then also announced the objective of reaching 20% of private sector participation in the overall budget.

At that time, Laurent Fabius stated that the business partners were welcomed because their activity is compatible with a high level of environmental compliance. He also claimed that “all these companies are friends of the climate”.

An analysis by French environmental magazine, Terraeco, had already pointed out in May that the COP’s financers were strongly involved in heavily polluting activities. Among them, for example, can be found coal extractors such as energy giants EDF and Engie, which produce as much CO2 as half of the French people, their funders (BNP Paribas), the aviation and automobile industry (Air France, Michelin, Renault-Nissan), as well as supporters of shale gas (Suez Environment).

All around the world, concerns have been voiced against this flagrant conflict of interest that risks undermining the Conference’s integrity and jeopardising its results, as many feel that their direct financial interest goes against the moral focus of the negotiations.

Oxfam France denounced the participation of what it calls “France’s pollution champions”. Although a screening system was established to ensure the compatibility of these companies with the fight against climate change, it appears to have been a mere smokescreen. COP’s general secretary, Pierre-Henri Guignard, even stated that there was no a priori exclusion for participation and that COP’s doors were not closed.

According to the information available on COP21’s official website, sponsors are invited to freely make use of the “official partner COP21” logo for a year. They have privileged access to the “meeting and speaking areas” within the civil society space and are invited to a regular dialogue on the advancement of the negotiations within the “Cercle des Amis de la COP21”, co-chaired by Laurent Fabius and Ségolène Royal. In addition, they are invited to all receptions organised by the host-country which provides them with precious access to the highest level negotiators.

This privileged access is a key element that enables lobby groups to influence negotiations as was evidenced by Corporate Europe Observatory in its last report highlighting the links between corporate lobbying and the EU’s climate policy.

Patti Lynn, Executive director of Corporate Accountability International noted that the decision to allow these large polluters to sponsor the conference is “akin to hiring a fox to guard a hen house". She also argued that the UN climate negotiations were at risk of becoming “corporate tradeshows for false market-based solutions.” Genuine and ambitious climate action is, by nature, incompatible with the current business models these companies rely on.

Recent examples highlight this blatant conflict of interest. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, currently chaired by the CEO of Renault-Nissan (one of COP21’s official sponsors),  continuously fought against higher emissions reduction objectives for the automobile sector.

EDF, which has been very vocal in claiming to commit in favour of a decarbonised world, is itself a member of BusinessEurope - a powerful lobby group known in Brussels for its numerous and successful obstructions to the EU’s climate policies, including for renewable energy.

Finally, another report published in November by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) also shed some light on the contradictions between the business sector’s claims and what is required to effectively remain within a 2°C maximum temperature increase. Some of their highlights included the sector’s sustained rhetoric in favour of the maximisation of economic growth, its focus on gas as a substitute for coal, as well as their call in favour of carbon capture and storage technologies that would partially replace GHG emissions reduction.

These solutions are neither sustainable, nor effective as they remain within the same logic of resource exploitation and short-term economic thinking. According to the report, they constitute a real danger as they draw attention away from the real culprits and delay the adoption of more ambitious solutions. Furthermore, they are not compatible with a 1.5°C maximum temperature increase demanded by more than 100 countries.

Paris must be the starting point of a worldwide movement of fossil fuel phase-out and renewables phase-in, while improving the livelihoods and resilience of all communities around the world.

The private sector has, of course, an essential role to play in this energy transition. Unless they unconditionally and promptly commit to making their activities and business models truly sustainable, however, companies that support fossil fuels have no legitimacy in being associated with the COP.

These companies’ shameless and loathsome greenwashing primarily aimed at embellishing to their own public image without having to commit to genuine climate action should be denounced and stopped.

Corporate Accountability International’s report calls on the UNFCCC to free climate negotiations of Corporate interests through directly denying big polluters’ access from the policy-making process, in a similar way that big tobacco was kicked out of health talks a decade ago.

In May, more than 60 organisations launched a global campaign to kick big polluters out of climate policy. So far, it has received more than half a million signatures. Let’s bring power back to the people and communities. Climate change is too big an issue to be kidnapped by short-sighted corporate interests.

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