The tactics of these rogue climate elements must not succeed
August 27, 2009 / The Guardian
A small, unaccountable group of climate activists of uncertain provenance and nefarious purpose are plotting widespread destruction in the City of London this week. Yes, it was business as usual for the corporate lobbyists who are in overdrive in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit in December. For, as Nasa’s leading climate scientist James Hansen recently warned, corporate lobbying is gravely undermining democratic attempts to curb carbon emissions.
While many companies have moved from outright denial, they are mobilising enormous political pressure to avoid taking concrete action. The Carbon Disclosure Project reported that the Global 100 firms are 39 years behind achieving the levels of emissions reductions recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. It’s clear that action is being dictated by money, not science.
In the absence of any real political scrutiny or control of corporate lobbying, direct action of the kind carried out by Climate Camp activists this week is crucial not just for the environment but for democracy itself.
In the days to come, Climate Campers will be carrying out non-violent direct actions aimed at the corporations and lobbyists which they see as being major perpetrators of climate change. Targets include BP, who are extracting oil from Canadian tar sands, a process that produces four times as much CO2 as conventional drilling, and the World Coal Institute which promotes coal – with the highest carbon emissions of all – as a “progressive fuel”.
One significant lobby group in the Climate Camp’s sights is Edelman PR, acting on behalf of the German energy firm E.ON, which is lobbying to build the UK’s first coal-fired power station in decades at Kingsnorth. The inclusion of a PR firm is interesting: for 20 years public relations agencies have used tactics drawn from the smoking lobby to sow doubt among the general public over climate-change science, as well as working to greenwash their clients while gutting regulatory action. Shining light on these players will be especially important in the months leading up to Copenhagen.
As Olivier Hoedeman from lobbying watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory says: “From Washington DC to Ottawa, Brussels to Tokyo, the most influential governments in the climate negotiations are facing an unprecedented corporate lobbying offensive, aiming to weaken greenhouse gas reduction targets.”
There has also been a recent rash of corporate-funded fake grassroots (or “astroturf”) campaigns. The American Petroleum Institute has been mobilising “Energy Citizens” – most of whom are oil lobbyists – to oppose Obama’s climate change bill. The EU has granted sweeping exemptions for industries such as aluminium, steel, iron and cement producers who, via lobbies like Business Europe and the European Chemical Industry Council, have argued that tighter emissions controls will drive factories to relocate abroad.
In May, corporations and lobbyists were given unprecedented access to UN climate negotiators at the World Business Summit on Climate Change; the resulting “Copenhagen call” is a document which the summit host, the Danish government, is expected to refer to as the official unifying declaration for business during the negotiations in December.
The solutions these business lobbies are promoting will create massive loopholes that could undermine any agreement. They see the global carbon market as the solution, in which they buy and trade permits to pollute. This despite the fact that the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme has resulted in no net reductions in carbon emissions to date. No coincidence, then, that the same people who have no desire to move beyond fossil fuels are also the biggest fans of carbon trading.
For all these reasons, climate activists plan to expose and blockade corporate lobbyists at the Copenhagen summit in December. These are the kind of practical skills they will learn at Climate Camp over this week. In confronting the lobbyists, they hope to open political space for indigenous people, those affected by fossil fuel extraction and processing, representatives of small island states threatened by rising sea levels, and others whose voices are being marginalised, to get a meaningful agreement.
This is difficult political terrain, and there’ll be those who spin this as a story of activists disrupting sincere attempts to get a climate deal. Remember, then, the words of Martin Luther King: “We who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”