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Should the fossil fuel industries be kept out of the Climate change negotiations to be held next month?
chaitra yadavar | 17 Oct 2016

Big Fossil fuel companies are trying to hijack the Climate change negotiations- COP everyyear. Using various strategies to deny that they are the biggest pollutors on earth, they are now trying to gain an try into UN's Climate conventions and participate in writing the text of policies.

Going against the very basics of what International NGOs fighting againts Climate Change are doing, they now are drilling into the Arctic Ocean floor to extract oil. By using some strategies of what the activists against the Tobacco industries did to ensure a stronger implementation of anti-tobacco policy, Climate change activists can successfully stop the 'Big Oil' from interfering in policy-making.

In the forthcoming COP 22, the world stands at a crucial stage where the biggest polluters of Greenhouse gases need to be held accountable and spotlight needs to be put on stringent measures to be taken to curb and also pay for the damage caused.

All the Parties to the Convention are represented at the COP where they review the implementation of the Convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts and take effective steps to implement the decisions.

The whole purpose, the structure and importance of COP is under threat due to the possibility of the fossil fuel industries participating in the decision making of the COP22 summit to be held this year on 7th to 18th November in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Is the Big Oil really trying to stop negotiations?

One of the biggest industries to be responsible for large scale emissions in the environment and to stall climate change talks is the fossil fuels industry. According to the report of Influence Map, a UK-based nonprofit organization, the fossil fuel industry spent more than 81 pounds to lobby against climate policy happening all over the world.

They said that "despite the recent Paris agreement on global warming, the fossil fuel industry is still systematically trying to stall progress, and using shareholder funds to do so."

Even during the June 2015 Paris climate agreement, it was seen that the fossil fuel businesses were trying to gain an entry in to the whole negotiations.

According to Jesse Bragg, media director of Corporate Accountability International, "climate action should be based on the interests of citizens and the planet, not those of the industry. The private sector will definitely have a role in climate action. The question is whether it is also going to be allowed to write the rules for it."

James Bacchus, trade expert at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC): "This issue is important for governments to address but it is far too important to leave to governments alone" which emphasised the need for space to let the negotiations happen without the influence of big  powers."

Big Oil writing the text of policies?

With this, one cannot help but wonder if an organization that directly opposes the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC convention—which is to reduce emissions causing climate change and to protect people and the planet from its effects—be allowed to participate in the decision-making process to tackle climate change? All the experts are ruing the fact that eventually this Big Oil (as the fossil fuel industry is known) will eventually be allowed to write the text of the negotiations if they are given an entry.

"How can we let them exist in a space which is supposed to find a solution?" asked Jesse Bragg.

The climate negotiations are supposed to be between governments who represent their people (obviously not always the case), with supposed mechanisms of accountability (elections). Governments already represent the interests of business – often over the interests of other parts of society – so the idea of giving business an even greater role in negotiations is an insult to democracy and to the very idea of the UN.

Untangling industry's involvement in global climate negotiations will require taking on some of the biggest trade groups in the world. Members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have a total annual revenue of more than 7 trillion dollars and they include Dow chemicals, Monsanto, Shell, Duke energy and BP.

The council actually presents its 200 corporate members as part of the solution to stop climate change, it has actually lobbied against any legally binding standards at every major United National environmental summit since the council was formed in 1992.

One noticeable fact is that collectives like the European Unionallocates billions in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry while taking away the subsidies to clean energy and it is termed as smart policy making. United Kingdom's 2016 budget which abolished the Petroleum Revenue Tax and other tax breaks for fossil fuels is the same thing. 

Instead of having a clear line between the industry and the Big Oil, the fossil fuel industry is deeply involved in and actively influencing climate negotiations. For example, the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (whose members include BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, among other major oil and gas companies) has hosted official side events to the COPs, produced their own reports on strategies for adapting to climate change and advised governments on climate policy.

Currently its members are working in direct opposition to reducing global emissions by expanding oil exploration: BP and Shell, for example, are moving into offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

How the Big Tobacco was successfully stopped from writing Tobacco policies:

In this scenario where the Big Oil is directly trying to influence and write the text of the negotiations, climate change activists have a lot to learn from the successful struggle that activists led against the Big Tobacco decades back. Several activists and NGOs successfully kept the companies away from the negotiating table.

Civil society groups and governments from countries like Panama, Thailand and South Africa fought hard and secured the inclusion of 30 words that were the jumping-off point for an extensive set of guidelines (PDF) that spurred serious government action against Big Tobacco. They state, in  , "In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, parties shall act to protect these polices from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry." These guidelines were adopted unanimously at the  (PDF) in Durban, South Africa. Thus Big Tobacco was kept out of the policy discussions about tobacco industries.

Limits which were placed on Big Tobacco:

 In fact, tobacco companies and their trade groups are not allowed to attend or observe the meetings at all. When industry representatives have attempted to use public badges to gain entry, they have been removed by the Secretariat. The WHO is working on screening public badges to prevent such breaches in the future. 

All these steps have lead to a firm blow to their attempts to gain an entry and influence the decision-making process.

A stark line between negotiators, governments and industry helped create a tobacco treaty with real impact.One of the most widely embraced treaties in U.N. history, it covers almost 90 percent of the world's population and is projected to save as many as 200 million lives by 2050 — and many millions more thereafter.

Taking their example….

There are glaring similarities between the 'strategies' used by Big Tobacco and Big Oil in terms of misleading the public. Both these groups of companies were well aware of the harmful and potential life-threatening effects of their products but didn't bring these factors to light. Instead, they pushed these products more and more in the public by using various marketing strategies in the media.

Currently, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, in July 2016, sent to 47 "carbon majors" including Shell, BP, Chevron, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, a 60-page document accusing them of breaching people's fundamental rights to "life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self determination".

The move is the first step in what is expected to be an official investigation of the companies. The complaint argues that the companies should be held accountable for the effects of their greenhouse gas emissions in the Philippines and demands that they explain how human rights violations resulting from climate change will be "eliminated, remedied and prevented".

The conspiracy isn't only against smokers' health; it's against all life on Earth.

The Big Oil also knew. Companies like Exxon, BP, Shell and Peabody Energy have known about climate change and their role in creating it for many years. Again, instead of solving the problem, began on a series of campaigns designed to deceive the public about the reality of climate change and to stop actions from various organizations and individuals that might curb global warming emissions.

As people take to the streets to demand substantial action on climate change, it's time to take this lesson from the fight against Big Tobacco. Bold action on climate policy is possible only if a stark line is drawn between climate negotiators and the industries driving the crisis.

UN's secretary general, Ban Ki Moon has announced he will be joining climate marchers in the street. Here's hoping he also listens to the call to action. As sea levels rise and millions are displaced, as species disappear and extreme weather sweeps the globe, it's ever more clear we need an Article 5.3 for climate talks — and we need it now.