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Stop colluding with corporate climate culprits!

Destruction of typhoon in the Phillippines

Twelve-year-old Michael Sunit stands amid the destruction all around him in Hagdan village, Guintacan island, the Philippines. This is the human cost of world leaders' apathetic approach to tackling climate change. Simon Davis/DFID under a Creative Commons Licence

Yeb Sano, lead climate negotiator from the Philippines, broke down in tears as he addressed the 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC). The conference, currently underway in Warsaw is taking place not long after super typhoon Haiyan left thousands dead in his native land.

Calling for urgent action on climate change, Mr Sano said: ‘It is the 19th COP [Conference of the Parties] but we might as well stop counting because my country refuses to accept that a COP30 or a COP40 will be needed to solve climate change. And because it seems that despite the significant gains we have had since the UNFCCC was born, 20 years hence we continue to fail in fulfilling the ultimate objective of the convention.’

Twenty years is indeed a long time. Not only have governments failed to stop climate change but it seems that a new binding and just agreement is nowhere close. Emissions have almost doubled. Scientists warn that we need to radically cut Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to avoid drastic climate change that will reduce the planet’s capacity to support human life.

What are our governments doing as the world stares disaster in the face? Australia, for instance, paid brief condolences to the Philippines before calling for the conference to get down to business. This, apparently, meant watering down climate change legislation back home and avoiding commitments to emissions cuts. Japan announced that it will cut GHG emissions by 3.8 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, which is actually an increase of 3.1 per cent on 1990 levels. In short, developed countries are resisting any binding protocol that will force them to cut emissions, and are pushing for market mechanisms and pledges, some of which are actually emissions increases, not reductions.

Here we are, staring into the abyss of a planetary emergency, while our governments are achieving precisely nothing. They are, however, providing ample advertising and lobbying space for the interests of people who profit from energy and climate problems. We refer to this massive corporate influence on UN processes as ‘corporate capture’. Huge businesses that pollute are implicated in human rights violations or collude with those who hurt people and the planet should not be anywhere near the structures of global governance. That much seems obvious. Perhaps the best example from this conference is the coal summit running parallel to the climate conference, where the World Coal Association, together with the Polish Ministry of Economy,  will promote ‘The Warsaw Communique’, which aims to convince decision-makers that coal is a clean and climate-safe source of energy, albeit one whose elimination as an energy source would cut emissions by 25 per cent.

No one even tries to hide this corporate influence: the logos of sponsors festoon the conference centre. Meanwhile these businesses continue to develop and sell products that are harming all of us. In some cases they have even lobbied against carbon emission reduction. Spaces for civil society and public voices are shrinking, as demonstrated by the outrageous removal of three youth activists from the conference centre for displaying a banner with the question ‘How many more?’ meaning ‘how many more people have to die before governments act?’ This incomprehensible situation – where polluting airlines fly their flags even as the bearers of messages of solidarity are removed from the premises – amounts to nothing less than the hijacking of reason and common sense to protect the privilege of a few at all costs.

The negotiations thus have to be masked with technicalities, using numbers and base years to hide the fact that there have only been small cuts in pollution or no cuts at all. Not to mention that climate justice – fair treatment for those most vulnerable to and most affected by climate change – is nowhere in sight.

So what we can do? We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We must bring the voices from the streets and from affected communities into these international forums. We must ensure that the international media hears real messages and not corporate PR machines. We must promote and implement real solutions. We must drastically and urgently change the ways we produce and consume energy. Yes, we must give up our addiction to fossil fuels.

We at Friends of the Earth International argue that it is possible to build a climate-safe, just and sustainable energy system which ensures a basic right to energy and respects the rights and different ways of life of communities around the world. To get there, we have to limit corporate influence on decision-makers and exert real democratic control over energy and climate decisions.

Jagoda Munic is an environmental activist and Chairperson of Friends of the Earth International (FoEi). She works at Zelana akcija/FoE Croatia.

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