Imagine this. The government are reviewing the national guidelines on sugar consumption. You would think that this decision would be made by a group of experienced, intelligent and nonpartisan professionals. Unbeknownst to us, ‘industry bodies’ and ‘corporate sponsors’ are ushered into the conversations. Therefore, in amongst the doctors, politicians and health professionals, representatives from Coca Cola, Nestle and Kraft appear.
This is what is called as having ‘vested interests’: people or parties who stand to be affected by the outcome, but who are actively involved in making the decisions. In some industries such as pharmaceuticals, tobacco and fossil fuels, the outcomes which lend themselves to large corporate profits, are normally at-odds with outcomes which act in the best interests of society.
In climate negotiations and energy policy, there have been multiple times in recent history when fossil fuel companies have infiltrated the decision-making process to ensure that it goes in their favour.
Last year, Halite Energy Group (a gas storage firm involved in fracking), hired the PR company Finsbury to conduct their negotiations to gain previously-refused licences in Lancashire. Coincidentally, Finsbury is owned by Roland Rudd: the brother of MP Amber Rudd – the then Department for Energy & Climate Change Minister. In fact, close relationships between current members of the UK Conservative party and directors of fossil fuel companies have led to conversations at conservative party fundraisers and private ‘energy sector training’ events for senior civil servants. These events have no doubt helped to shape the UK’s current energy policy: which consists of heavy support for gas and significant tax breaks for North Sea drilling. The Committee on Climate Change recognises that this policy is insufficient to meet the necessary carbon budgets in line with the Climate Change Act (2008) and will not put the UK on target for limiting warming to 1.5°C – as outlined in the recent Paris agreements.
Global subsidies available for fossil fuels significantly outweigh those available for renewables, demonstrating that the industry still wields significant power over global governance systems: power which has originated from corruption, bribery and establishing ‘special relationships’ with politicians.
In Brazil for instance, the oil giant Petrobras (once the sixth largest company in the world) has been involved in government bribery and corruption since 2004. In Australia, two Labor ministers issued multi-million dollar licences to coal exploration companies, of which they themselves owned 25%. In Nigeria, fossil fuel companies have been financing the entire political system since as far back as 1956.
If we are going to lessen the likelihood of catastrophic warming on this planet, then we need to decarbonise our economy. Oil & gas companies have consistently demonstrated that they are not interested in this: choosing instead to fund extensive lobbying efforts, support climate denial programmes and withdraw support for renewable energy. Despite this disinterest in decarbonisation, many companies sponsor climate events and conferences: primarily to generate good PR.
In November 2014 for instance, Shell sponsored the annual Chatham House conference on Climate Change. In 2015, the international climate negotiations in Paris (COP21) had 12 corporate sponsors, 4 of which: EDF, Suez Environnement, BNP Paribas & Engie collectively own 46 coal-fired power plants around the world and are responsible for over 200million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
The hypocrisy of these sponsorships is alarming, and it is rather worrying that our ‘international climate leaders’ have thus far failed to recognise them as such.
The 2005 WHO (World Health Organisation) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was truly innovative, as the first global health-based treaty and one of the first evidence-based policies in international law. A really revolutionary aspect however, was Article 5.3, which “requires Parties to protect their tobacco control and public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.” The Conference of Parties recognised that the tobacco industry was not acting in the best interest of public health, and therefore they determined that it should not be involved in any kind of policy decision-making process regarding the use of tobacco.
This type of bold leadership is needed at COP22. If we as a population are going to have any chance in addressing climate change at the scale and speed required, then we need to recognise that the involvement of the fossil fuel industry in climate negotiations is counter-productive and ineffective.
Climate change is an issue which cannot begin to be solved if we continue to pander to industry interests, and if we continue to allow profits to be prioritised over people.
We need to exclude fossil fuels from climate negotiations, and begin our shift towards a zero-carbon future.