Opinion: Exclude Energy Companies from Climate Talks

The global fossil fuel industry has positioned itself as part of the solution to the very crisis it has knowingly driven for more than thirty years, according to critics who are trying to halt or minimize the role of France’s biggest utilities and energy users in talks coming up in Bonn, Germany later this week and later in December in Paris.

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has hidden behind a smokescreen of doubt, cooptation and denial,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International, a Boston, Massachusetts-based NGO. “Global South governments have confronted and stopped this before—with Big Tobacco. It’s time to put energy back in the people’s hands and reclaim power.”

The Conference of Parties (COP) 21, a yearly summit of countries involved in tackling climate change, is to take place in Paris beginning on Nov. 30, with countries preparing for what could be the biggest decision so far both for the planet and humanity’s survival. The fortnight-long conference was budgeted to cost €170 million (US$193.4 million).

Preliminary talks have led to commitments by some of the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse gases to attempt to limit global warming to 2C by 2030. Although many doubt that that goal can be met, island nations such as the Philippines and other low-lying countries vulnerable to rising seas and intensifying weather phenomena have called for a limit to 1.5C.

The French government has announced that 20 percent of the cost will be borne by firms such as Électricité de France S.A, formerly known as GDF Suez, the French multinational electric utility company, Air France, Renault-Nissan, BNP Paribas and the French foreign ministry.

Suez Environnement, which deals in water privatization, is partially owned by GDF Suez, which profits from fracking operations around the world, putting it at direct odds with the advancement of the treaty. EDF and Engie’s coal operations account for the equivalent of nearly half of France’s entire emissions.

Activists have appealed to governments to take urgent and meaningful action on climate change next week at a preliminary meeting in Bonn, where the Clean Development Mechanism accreditation board is to meet on Oct. 19.

The call by Corporate Accountability International is part of a global day of action in several countries calling for a more just and sustainable energy system and for policymakers to end the undue influence and obstruction of climate policy by transnational fossil fuel corporations.

"Every day we feel the effects of climate change - a crisis we did little to create. Today, the people of India are saying 'enough is enough,’” said Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and Vice President of the Socialist Party (India).

Pandey, who is also involved with National Alliance of People's Movements and the NGO Asha Parivar, charged that “It is time for community-based renewable energy systems and policy that are determined by the people, not the world’s largest energy corporations. It’s time to kick big polluters out of the process for good. We also need to ascertain civil and criminal liability of corporations for irreparable damage they cause to our environment and people's lives."

The call to “Kick Big Polluters Out” is part of the global Reclaim Power movement led by a coalition focused on transforming the world’s energy systems in order to ensure the people’s right to clean and renewable energy. Reclaim Power challenges dirty and harmful energy sources and is organizing for a swift and just transition to public and community controlled renewable energy systems. The coalition is under the umbrella of Corporate Accountability International, which partnered with NGOs and governments globally to take on the tobacco industry in the United Nations. The resulting global treaty on tobacco control has led to effective lifesaving national and local policy, according to its backers.

Taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, the fossil fuel industry has positioned itself as part of the solution to the very crisis it has knowingly driven for more than thirty years. Recently, some of the world’s biggest polluters, including coal miner BHP Billiton and oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, announced a collaboration to advise governments on how to combat global warming without harming their economies. Such a corporate-driven initiative is just one of many example of how effectively the industry has inserted itself into the process.

The Bonn meeting is the last time to negotiate the text in preparation for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris in December. COP 21 is largely seen as a make-or-break moment for the process, which has so far maintained a snail’s pace of progress since its inception in 1992.

“We appeal to the Indian government to send government officers with demonstrated competence on climate justice to these meetings and not those who will instead attend to trade or business interests,” Pandey said.

With reporting by Citizen News Service