Groups Raise Concern Over Role of COP21 Sponsors

PAris COP21_400x400We’ve seen considerable progress on emissions, including commitments being made by superpower governments, notably the U.S., China, and Brazil. We’ve seen a court ruling in Holland that sets a precedent for citizen lawsuits on government inaction on climate change. There is a growing movement to divest from fossil fuel investments, including major banks, due to fears of stranded assets. And the latest data coming from climate scientists is bleaker than ever. Combine all this and the stage is set for a significant new international agreement coming out of COP21 this fall in Paris. There is a sense of optimism in the air right now.

But a few clouds have recently appeared in those renewable-friendly sunny skies. A group called, Corporate Europe Observatory, whose motto is “exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU,” along with Friends of the Earth (FOE), ATTAC France, WECF and 350.org, have raised a flag of concern, claiming that event organizers have sold too many sponsorships to big polluters, who are “not so climate-friendly.” The groups are concerned that these sponsors could have a negative influence over the proceedings. With so much at stake, and the world seemingly on the brink of reaching an agreement that would at last put a meaningful price on carbon, it’s not unreasonable to consider the idea that some companies could be seeking ways to influence the outcome.

Who are these companies?

Included on the list are the French utility companies EDF (Électricité de France), which relies heavily on nuclear power, and Engie (formerly GDF Suez), which burns a great deal of coal. Also on the list are Air France and Renault-Nissan, as well as Suez Environment which has been involved in lobbying for fracking. Also on the list is BNP-Paribas, which is the foremost French bank in terms of support for coal.

Mailka Peyraut, of the French chapter of Friends of the Earth, said in a press release: “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. While the French government had said that they would look for businesses with flawless reputations, many of them are involved in projects harmful to people, their quality of life and work. Putting the most important climate conference of the decade under the patronage of climate-incompatible businesses does not bode well.”

Maxime Combes of ATTAC France added: “The government is offering a cheap and easy opportunity for multinational climate criminals to green-wash their image. The public interest demands that these talks not be polluted by the private interests represented by these companies. Would we entrust the fight against tobacco to cigarette manufacturers? Why do it for climate policy?”

“We cannot negotiate a climate agreement with those who are responsible for climate change: states must listen to citizens’ interests, and not the private interests of lobbies and multinationals,” said Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory. COP21 is relying on a larger percentage (20 percent) of private funding than some previous climate summits such as COP19 in Warsaw where the level of industry participation sparked protests.

Sabido responded to an email from TriplePundit containing several questions.

TriplePundit: How do you think these sponsors will try to influence the outcome of the summit?

Pascoe Sabido: Sponsoring is more about their image and gaining credibility (for the company and its climate ‘solutions’). But it might also afford them opportunities for high-level meetings. The big push will be for business-friendly solutions which don’t challenge the status-quo — e.g. moving from coal to gas, keeping government interference over climate policy to a minimum via a single carbon price (which can allow companies the freedom of choosing their own investments, be them renewables, CCS, gas etc.; as well as another avenue to lobby against a tough price), ensuring there are carbon markets, making sure business interests and growth are the real priority.

3p: Do you believe it will be possible to have some of these sponsors rejected?

PS: Maybe, if there was enough pressure on the organizers. But that wouldn’t solve the problem — that’s just the public-facing facade. Government positions are already made when they arrive. And the U.N. itself is welcoming in corporations to be closer and closer to the negotiations — not just sponsors — e.g. via the Global Compact.

3p: If so, what would it take (to have sponsors rejected)?

PS: Scandal.

We also received this comment from Maxime Combes:

“Sponsoring is not the way for private companies to influence climate policies and Climate conferences, since they are doing this for a long time : Private companies are lobbying inside of the COPs and they won lots of battles since the false solutions they are fighting for are at the top of the political agenda. Sponsoring is what people can easily see, as a clue to understand how private interests are leading climate policies: for example, during the last 20 years of climate negotiations, no State, no International Institution proposed to leave the oil in the soil. This is the result of corporate interests that are encapsulated in the core of the climate negociations. Highlighting the sposoring of the COP21 is not a way to say that COPs would be OK without private sponsoring : it is a way to highlight the corporate takeover on all climate policies.”

No doubt we will hear more about this in the weeks and months ahead.

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com