Nepal | July 04, 2020

Greenwashing climate crime: Conflicts of interests

Sneha Pandey
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To meet this 1.5˚C target, according to Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a global grassroots climate campaign, “the remaining coal and much of the oil and the gas must be left in the ground” and we must focus on promoting renewables

Climate change

In 2014, Engie, one of world’s leading power producing company, was responsible for more than 131 megatons of greenhouse gas (GHG) production – this is roughly equivalent to riding a car around the globe 12 million times.

Ironically, a year later, Engie was selected as one of the official sponsors to the 2015 Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris – the twenty first installment to the annual climate meeting where governments from all over the world gather to fight global warming.

This was not an isolated oversight. The French government, as the host, selected various corporate sponsors to cover twenty percent of the cost of this euro 170 million event– many of which were, counter-intuitively, industries with emission-intensive practices.

Among the major dirty sponsors, along with Engie, were companies like Électricité de France (EDF), Suez Environment and BNP Paribas: Together these four companies own 46 coal-fired power plants around the world and are collectively responsible for over 200 million tonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide.

It is clear that, despite being corporate sponsors to COP21 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the vested interests of these giant corporations lie with fossil fuel and other emission-intensive industries.

This puts their interests in direct contradiction to that of the UNFCCC’s. Despite such conflicts in interests, however, these companies invested a significant amount of money into last year’s climate conference.

They did so mainly for two reasons: to buy a climate clean image in the public and to gain substantial influence inside the halls of the COP.

As the official sponsors of COP21 – and through various misleading Public Relations (PR) campaigns–fossil fuel and other emission intensive companies of the Global North have hidden under the thin veneer of “corporate social and environmental responsibility”.

They have, thus, effectively managed to greenwash their climate crimes and promote themselves as climate champions even as they make no changes to their polluting business models.

Outside the conference, these transnational companies use their deep pockets to cultivate financial relationships and partnerships with governments and some even indulge in malfeasance and corruption to gain favors.

As a result, these polluting companies have gained substantial influence in such climate conferences.

“Even before the meeting commences, transnational corporations have (already) secured a capacity to shape or set the terms of any potential treaty through decades of inserting themselves into the policymaking process”, reads a report by CAI.

Activists acknowledge that such “cozy relationships” between the polluters and the government must be put to an end, and the polluters ousted swiftly from the halls of the UNFCCC – just as tobacco industries were from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control due to what was cited as “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict”.

Otherwise, climate meetings like the COP are at a risk of become empty gestures: like hiring a fox to guard a hen house, analogizes CAI.

Consequently, climate change will progress unabated as marketing restrictions on coal, oil and gas remain slack.

Recognizing such predispositions, on several occasions in the past, many countries of the Global South have allied together to protest against the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry of the Global North, but to no avail.

However, during COP21, led by Ecuador, these countries have vowed to bring this issue up again during the next climate conference in Morocco.

Once, despite evidence to the contrary, dishonest fossil fuel companies formed extensive trade associations with other polluting companies and funded junk science and think tanks that promoted climate change denial.

Today, when companies can no longer deny climate change outright, they act like they are a part of the solution by greenwashing their climate history in public all the while promoting solutions like carbon pricing, carbon trading, carbon sequestration and fracking during the negotiations.

Many label such solutions as ‘false’ because none of these are viable options that will reduce emissions enough and promote sufficient transition to renewables so that we can meet the target set by COP21 – to keep temperatures “well below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels” while “pursuing efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5˚C”.

To meet this 1.5˚C target, according to Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, a global grassroots climate campaign, “the remaining coal and much of the oil and the gas must be left in the ground” and we must focus on promoting renewables.

Sound climate policies must promote such actions. But complete divestment from fossil fuels would hurt the bottom line of fossil fuel companies so as long as they are allowed influence in the UNFCCC, they will not allow this to transpire.

The UNFCCC, thus, must banish fossil fuels and other emission-intensive industries from such climate policymaking processes swiftly and completely.

Else fossil fuel industries will continue to pollute profitably and intensively while the environment and social fallout, especially for climate vulnerable countries like Nepal, will be huge.

Pandey has completed her Bachelors in Btech. Biotech


A version of this article appears in print on September 29, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.


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