How Major Corporate Polluters Are Attempting to Co-opt COP26

November 11th, 2021 - by Karla Adam and Harry Stevens / The Washington Post & Robbie Kirk / Jacobin

Who Has the Most Delegates at the Climate Summit?
The Fossil Fuel Industry

Karla Adam and Harry Stevens / The Washington Post

 (November 10, 2021) — The largest delegation at the COP26 climate summit does not belong to the United States, which is trying hard to reinstate itself as a climate leader, or to the United Kingdom, the host nation that pulled out the stops by adding Prince William and David Attenborough to its list of delegates.

The prize for largest delegation went to the fossil fuel industry, which, as a whole, sent more delegates than any single country, according to the advocacy group Global Witness.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg was not impressed. The Swedish teen tweeted, “I don’t know about you, but I sure am not comfortable with having some of the world’s biggest villains influencing … dictating the fate of the world.”

Conference arithmetic can be difficult. Almost 40,000 delegates registered for COP26 in Glasgow, making it the biggest COP in history, though the list doesn’t say how many actually showed up. And while Brazil sent 479 delegates to Glasgow, the largest team of negotiators at the summit, Global Witness and others analyzed a provisional delegate list published by the United Nations and found that 503 people linked, directly and indirectly, to the fossil fuel industry have been accredited for COP26.

This is larger than the combined total of delegates from Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines, Mozambique, the Bahamas, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the regions and countries worst affected by climate change, the group said.

The United States sent 165 delegates, including former president Barack Obama, who was attending events on Monday. The United Kingdom sent 230.

Murray Worthy, the gas campaign leader at Global Witness, said the “presence of hundreds of those being paid to push the toxic interests of polluting fossil fuel companies will only increase the skepticism of climate activists who see these talks as more evidence of global leaders’ dithering and delaying.”

The group said its analysis found that some of the delegates with links to fossil fuel interests were parts of official country designations from Canada, Russia and Brazil. The researchers said that over 100 fossil fuel companies were represented at COP26, including Royal Dutch Shell, Gazprom and BP, as well as 30 trade associations and membership organizations.

Last month, Royal Dutch Shell announced that it wouldn’t be attending the summit.

“We were told that we were not welcome, so we will not be there,” said Ben van Beurden, the company’s chief executive, when answering questions on its third quarter earnings results.

His remarks came after he was confronted at a pre-COP26 event in Edinburgh by activists who walked on stage during his speech and said that Shell had no place speaking at the event.

Shell on Monday said that the company didn’t send any executive-level people, and that it didn’t sponsor a pavilion or host any events. The company did have a few climate specialists who were attending events at the margins of the conference.

According to the U.N. list, Shell sent six people and BP sent seven. Shell’s slate included a vice president for carbon capture, utilization and storage, and the head of climate policy and advocacy.

Van Beurden’s well-publicized comments sparked a debate about the role of fossil fuel companies in tackling climate change and the extent to which they should be included in climate talks.

Big oil and gas firms were effectively banned from sponsoring events at COP26 after organizers laid out their criteria. Sponsors had to not only set net-zero targets, which Shell and BP have done, they also had to show a “credible action plan to achieve this, independently verified through the science-based targets initiative.”

Some of those identified as fossil fuel lobbyists rejected claims that their presence would obstruct talks, arguing that they are working on finding market-based ways to reduce emissions. The biggest bloc identified by Global Witness was from the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), which promotes markets for trading credits. They have 103 delegates in attendance.

Dirk Forrister, chief executive of IETA, said that about 25 percent of the delegates at COP were from energy and industrial sectors, like oil and gas, mining, chemical and electricity industries. The rest were people from “other parts of the carbon-market universe,” such as those working in finance.

He said most of his members have made net-zero pledges and that the companies were “working on transforming their businesses to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.”

“We support the whole ethos of the Paris agreement; it’s based on inclusivity,” he said. “There are many areas where business, government and NGOs are expected to work together to achieve the Paris ambition. We think cooperation is essential to get the result we want.”

Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for BP, said in an email that chief executive Bernard Looney opted not to travel to Glasgow because he didn’t want to become “a distraction from the important work going on at COP — although he honored a commitment by virtually participating in a panel discussion with Mary Robinson on the need for a Just Transition.”

Morrell said that a “handful” of BP colleagues were “invited to participate in events around COP, including the person leading our efforts to build Britain’s largest net zero industrial park. That is the extent of our involvement this year. No sponsorships. No hosting. No input.”

He added: “That’s unfortunate because in order to solve this monumental challenge you need [to] go where the emissions are and encourage those companies to green themselves — just as we are.”

Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said “to be frank I have not been seeing many from the fossil fuel industry.” She said that while “it’s shocking that there is such a large number here and there are probably a number of discussions going on behind closed doors or in private spaces, you’re not actually seeing it or feeling it here.”

The Sponsors of COP26 Are Behind the Corporate Greenwashing Agenda

Robbie Kirk / Jacobin

COP26 has been sold as a conference where world leaders
will finally tackle climate change. But for its corporate sponsors,
the conference is an opportunity to greenwash polluting for profit.

(November 9, 2021) — This month’s COP26 conference in Glasgow brings together world leaders behind a promise to finally take effective action on climate change. The profiles of those leaders themselves, whose grand statements have been plastered across the TV screens of the world, leave plenty to be desired: Most of the evidence suggests that they are unfit to lead on an issue that the rest of the year they basically ignore.

But beyond the sound bites, a more realistic understanding of the conference can be found by taking a deeper look into the “principal partners” that the conference’s website so proudly presents. If mainstream commentators were surprised by Greta Thunberg’s description of COP26 as a “greenwashing festival” and a “celebration of blah blah blah,” there was plenty of evidence for this trajectory in its list of corporate sponsors.

First up is Unilever, one of the world’s largest polluters, which produces enough plastic to cover eleven football pitches per day. A quick look at some plastic pollution NGOs confirms a considerable overlap between companies involved in initiatives supposedly intended to reduce plastic waste and those who produce the most plastic waste.

Last year, Unilever elicited widespread praise for making moves toward sustainable palm oil production, but that shift only came after a long-standing history of relationships with rogue actors destroying rainforests, according to the Rainforest Action Network. (Another similar consumer giant partnered with COP is IKEA, which produces more emissions when shipping its cargo around the world than even Amazon.)

Unilever is followed by Scottish gas giants SSE and Scottish Power. In October last year, SSE was named as Scotland’s second-biggest polluter. One study from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in 2019 found that SSE produces more than 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide from their Peterhead power station each year. Another partner, National Grid — the company responsible for running the country’s electricity network — has faced challenges by activists over its decision not to meet the standards set by the 2015 Paris Climate Accords.

Then we come to the tech giant Microsoft. Microsoft is famous for its questionable work practices, including the alleged use of child labor. In environmental terms, a quick Google search confirms that Microsoft is doing everything it can to tackle climate change and you shouldn’t investigate any further.

The company makes the bold statement of intent to be carbon-neutral by 2025, and indeed, it looks as though it may be successful — but its collaboration with major extractors throws the usefulness of this label into doubt. In Texas, for example, Microsoft has to help extract more than 50,000 barrels of oil per day from the Permian basin.

The example of Microsoft shows the major limitations that come with individualizing “carbon-neutral” goals. Failing to consider the collective processes through which these companies profit from one another enables them to evade meaningful criticism and change.

Another example is Sky, which claims to be headed towards carbon neutrality; Sky’s partnership with Qatar Airways paints a different picture of the media group’s commitment to zero emissions. Similarly, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is in partnerships in a number of carbon-emitting industries despite its claim to be going “carbon-neutral.”

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which also features among the list of partners, was found in 2019 to be one of the highest polluting companies in Scotland. To be fair to GSK, a large proportion of that pollution comes from the greenhouse gas contained in the inhalers it manufactures, which, according to the Financial Times, is 1,500 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

There is an alternative type of inhaler — a “dry powder” inhaler — that is common in Scandinavia, but these are not suitable for everyone, so GSK is looking into other options. It’s hard not to wonder whether the impetus to find those green alternatives is reduced when the polluting version currently sells in the United States for between $250 and $350 per unit — lasting about a month — to asthma suffers who have no other choice.

COP26’s retail backing comes from Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s largest supermarket stores with over 1,400 locations nationwide. In 2019, Greenpeace named Sainsbury’s as “the worst” supermarket for reducing plastic waste.

The appearance of another British-based consumer goods company, Reckitt, on the list of official partners also raised the hackles of climate campaigners, given its reliance on Wilmar International for palm oil resources. Wilmar has been criticized not only for the deforestation commonly associated with palm oil production, but also implicated in alleged human rights abuses, including the use of child labor, according to Amnesty International.

Finally, we come to the transportation giant Jaguar Land Rover. This company has, as recently as 2019, had to recall over 40,000 vehicles for emitting more carbon emissions than officially stated. A 2017 white paper found Land Rover to be the worst performing car manufacturer on the planet in terms of emissions, with new Land and Range Rover models producing several times more nitrogen oxide emissions than the average new car. The now merged company has even faced fines for “lagging behind” their competitors in the race to reduce emissions.

Not every company involved in sponsoring COP26 has such explicitly poor climate credentials as some of those listed above, and nearly all of them have made commitments to become carbon-neutral in a maximum of a couple of decades. But these corporate giants have already done serious environmental damage, and the evidence gives strong indication that their latest commitments are not to be trusted.

Private companies do not exist to serve the needs of the people or the fight against climate change. Their single goal is to profit, and the imperative for profit will reliably outweigh any of their green concerns. For many, sponsoring COP26 serves that goal by acting as an opportunity to greenwash their own responsibility in the crisis we now face.

For climate action to be successful, it must do away with the notion of cororate sponsors. World leaders cannot take hospitality, money, and direction from those they should be fighting in the battle to save the planet. What we need is an economic system that puts people and planet before profit — and that can never be built with the support of corporate interests.

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