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Corporate capture and production gaps: COP25 roundup

Towards the end of COP25 the official organizers decided that protestors voicing dissent against the corporatized negotiations were not welcome in the conference anymore. Enormous garage doors opened, and hundreds of people were pushed out of the building.

Over the years, corporate interests have worked their way into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in increasingly problematic ways. Fossil fuel companies sponsor side events where delegates are wined, dined,  and given undue access to negotiators from many countries. Beyond their influence in formal negotiations, these corporate interests have increasing access to domestic policymakers. Unsurprisingly, this level of corporate influence over domestic and international policy leaves the parties to the climate negotiations unwilling to take serious and swift action on the climate crisis. This was true at COP25 in Madrid, and it was true in 2010 and 2011 when I attended COPs 16 and 17 as a youth delegate. Even then it was obvious that fossil fuel interests were running the show. 

Here’s a picture of the youth degelation’s pithy response to the clear influence that corporations had over domestic and international policy in 2011:

Canadian Youth Delegation

Nearly ten years later, the situation has grown even more serious. In Canada alone, t he last  decade has seen industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers re-write Canadian energy and environment law under both Conservative and Liberal governments. This has made it even harder for social movements to win badly needed action on the climate crisis. 

Internationally, the UNFCCC yearly negotiations have become even more polluted with fossil fuel interests than before. This year’s negotiations were sponsored by companies like Spanish electrical utilities Endesa and Iberdrola. Panels on topics like carbon trading, carbon capture and storage, and other false solutions to the climate crisis are often hosted by companies like Shell. The International Emissions Trading Association, which has influence on some major parts of the text being negotiated, represents companies like BP, Suncor, Shell, and Enbridge.

Corporate representation at COP ensures that false solutions rooted in capitalist ideology are presented as some of the only options for tackling the climate crisis. Negotiations focused on false solutions leave little room for the voices of those most affected by the climate crisis to highlight real solutions that attack the root of the crisis. Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network gives a clear explanation of the corporate nature of the UN climate negotiations in this worth-watching clip from Madrid: “This has nothing to do with addressing global warming, climate change – it has everything to do with trading mechanisms…This is nothing but a grab for CO2 colonialism…We have to link climate capitalism with neoliberalism with imperialism.”

Market solutions are false solutions

This year, the hot topic at COP25 was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which discusses market and non-market mechanisms for carbon reductions. The idea of market-based solutions to the climate crisis is that if there are financial incentives to polluting less, polluting entities will pollute less. One type of market solution under the Paris Agreement is carbon trading, which enables new renewable projects to sell credits for the pollution they haven’t emitted to other higher emitting entities that want to demonstrate a commitment to renewable energy. One example of such a project is the Alto Maipo run-of-the-river hydro project currently under construction in Chile. While this project will sell carbon credits globally, it has already had impacts on local water, cattle grazing lands, and human rights. Is this project actually lowering global emissions? Is it resulting in fossil fuel power plants or internal combustion engines coming offline? Without incredible tracking and accountability, which Article 6 lacks, we should assume the answer is no. Is it challenging the fundamental problem that capitalist markets are built to extract unlimited wealth from a finite biosphere? No.

The Indigenous Climate Action Youth Delegation has a lot to say about Article 6, market solutions, and the impacts they have on Indigenous peoples. You can read it here.

Production gap –  ‘keep it in the ground’ in UN-speak

The UNFCCC has long been willing to discuss the ‘emissions gap’ – the gap between stated emissions goals, and the real emission reductions that would result from concrete plans. Astoundingly, the Paris Agreement talks about emissions, but not fossil fuels or limiting their supply. This changed in Madrid. The UN is now willing to talk about the ‘production gap’, which addresses the gap between the quantity of fossil fuels in reserve and under production, and the emissions that would result from that extraction. 

“We had an insertion of a conversation about how constraining the production and supply of fossil fuels is essential to climate ambition for the very first time that I’ve seen in this space,” Cat Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada told CBC’s The Current (around minute 36). “A lot of what we’re grappling with is the underlying motivation for countries not making the kinds of decisions they need to be making and coming to these talks to slow them down. And that is the profit interest of the fossil fuel industry.”

This is an incredible change that can be credited to more than a decade of global grassroots organizing working to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Work to stop new fossil fuel extraction and transportation projects has not only stopped some of those projects, but has totally changed the way that people talk about solutions to the climate crisis. Read the UN Environment Program  Production Gap Report and Paris To Projects for more details on these concepts.

In order to solve a problem, we must first identify it. Many of us identified years ago that to stop emissions we have to stop producing oil; that message has finally penetrated even the most corporatized halls of the UNFCCC.

Despite the fact these international climate negotiations have proved extremely problematic, this change driven by grassroots movements gives me hope. I know our movements hold the seeds of change we need.