Lobbyists Harvest the Fruits of their Labour at COP-6bis
A geopolitical earthquake,"  "a triumph for citizens all over the world,"  "a major tactical victory,"  cheered the NGOs at the successful closing of the 'COP-6 bis' climate talks in Bonn in July 2001. This was the continuation of negotiations following the failure to agree at COP-6 in The Hague the previous November. Yet whether the outcome justifies quite such jubilant celebration remains open to question. Greg Muttitt reports.
ne of the most notable things about the talks themselves was the lack of substantial business presence. Only two business lobby groups - the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Pew Centre - actually had a fixed presence with offices. Meanwhile, the climate change coordinator of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Dave Moorcroft (on secondment from BP) only bothered turning up for two days of the twoweek summit.
Was this a lack of interest in the results? Certainly not. The heavy involvement of business lobbyists in the Kyoto process at every earlier stage is well documented. Actually, the reason was that, on the whole, the lobbyists' job had already been done.
Even before the start of COP-6 bis, it had already been informally agreed (in the time since COP-6) that there would be no cap on the degree to which a country can use the 'flexible mechanisms' to meet its target for emissions reductions. The three mechanisms - emissions trading, joint implementation and the clean development mechanism (CDM) - allow countries to take advantage of actions in other countries and count them towards their own targets. In doing so they create an accounting nightmare, and a set of rules so complex that only a highly specialised climate lawyer can understand them.
So it was already decided that there would be a massive market for carbon emissions. This fits happily with the prevailing corporate ideology of market-based solutions, and creates a new commodity - and a new opportunity for the corporate sector to profit from. Many have criticised this as effective privatisation of the atmosphere. According to Yin Shao Loong of the Third World Network, the nature of the trading regime, "serves to make the market viable whilst grossly distorting it (i. e., eroding environmental integrity whilst allocating market power) big players will only enter if they are assured of success, high returns and little impact on domestic industrial interests. Contrast the US demands for law and policy 'harmonisation' in the international trade arena. Trading 'partners' are pushed to adopt a regime which US companies are already harmonised with. When developing countries adopt reduction commitments and enter the emissions trading market they will be facing fully-armed and heavily stockpiled trading partners."
The Protocol agreed in Kyoto three and a half years earlier - while unambitious in its targets - at least rested on a sensible basic principle, that climate change should be addressed by legally binding cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. For this to have been reshaped into the arcane carbon market constitutes a major victory for corporate lobbying over common sense.
Business as a solution
The main job of business lobbyists in Bonn was to emphasise - as articulated in the ICC's climate slogan - the idea of "business: part of the solution." To this end there were numerous side events to demonstrate the approaches businesses had already implemented. The International Emissions Trading Association alone organised five side- events. And of course at the forefront of these were the oil companies.
This time it was Texaco which proudly announced the launch of its own internal emissions reduction and emissions trading scheme. Which, like those of BP and Shell earlier, has nothing to do with the vast quantities of oil and gas Texaco extracts from geological reserves and offers us to burn in our cars, factories and power stations. Instead it means that Texaco in its own operations (extracting, refining, distributing, selling petroleum and products), "is careful about its greenhouse gas emissions and its energy use."
Incredibly, despite the huge influence of the corporate sector in setting the terms and rules of the Kyoto Protocol, few companies have been prepared to publicly support it, let alone lobby for its ratification. A survey of the US Fortune 100 by Greenpeace found only 3 companies supportive of the Kyoto Protocol, and two conditionally supportive.
This is well illustrated by BP, who are represented in almost every corporate grouping working on climate: WBCSD, ICC, IPEICA, UNICE, USCIB, IETA etc. Deputy Chairman Rodney Chase is chair of the Emissions Trading Group, the body responsible for the UK's emissions trading system. So BP is fantastically involved in the Kyoto process. Yet it has taken very great care not to publicly support the Protocol.
The Corporate Europe Observer challenged Mike Wrigglesworth, BP's chief lobbyist in Brussels -who was attending COP-6 bis as chair of UNICE's climate change committee - on whether he had concerns about the lack of transparency in BP's influence. He replied that it is very important for NGOs to be transparent because it is only publicly that they draw any legitimacy; whereas companies do not need to be transparent in their political involvement because their interest is clear: to generate returns for their shareholders. This view - that NGOs need to be more regulated, and more transparent, and business less so - is becoming increasingly popular among the corporate sector and presents very serious democratic concerns.
There were just two battles business groups had still to fight; the dispute over the level of admission of carbon sinks (using carbon absorption by forests and agriculture as an alternative to some of a country's emissions cuts), and that over the support for and promotion of nuclear power as a solution to climate change. And the forestry industry and the nuclear industry were out in force. Indeed, it was hard to find a table in the summit venue which wasn't covered with their leaflets.
Sinks lobbyists present at the meeting included not just existing interests such as the Confederation of European Forest Owners and the Canadian Fertilizer Institute, but also the new ones thrown up specifically by the business opportunities created by climate change. For example, Future Forests, which sells the scientifically questionable 'Carbon Neutral' certification to companies and individuals who pay it to plant trees to counter their carbon dioxide emissions, was pushing hard on the forest sinks door.
In the end, the forestry lobby scored an overwhelming success, but less through its own efforts than through the political dynamic of the governmental delegations. With the USA having publicly rejected Kyoto altogether, it had become crucial to keep all other countries on board, and Japan, Canada and Australia were able to demand concessions at will. Most significant of these was the generous caps on their allowance for the use of forest sinks. This to such an extent that, by the WWF's calculations, the Bonn accord will cut industrialised country emissions by just 1.8% rather than the 5% agreed at Kyoto.
Nuclear fared less well. The European Union, the most progressive grouping among the industrialised countries, had lost on almost all the points it had fought - from limiting countries' allowable use of flexible mechanisms, to limiting use of sinks, to serious penalties for failure to meet targets - and refusing to support nuclear was its last stand (because of the strong anti-nuclear feeling among Europe's public). Even here the wording of the agreement was weak and non- specific, stating that countries would "refrain from" generating emission reduction credits through Joint Implementation or the CDM by funding nuclear power projects.
Enter the high priest
Along with sinks and mechanisms, two other main areas were discussed in Bonn; funding for climate change mitigation in developing countries, and the regime for compliance. On the latter, the final agreement omitted any legal or financial penalty for any country failing to meet its target. Instead, such a country would have to cut a further 30% from its emissions for the next commitment period (the period after 2012) - but since targets for that period have not yet been agreed, any country expecting to miss its first target could simply build it's 30% extra into its negotiating position. Even this weak agreement almost fell apart in the final days' technical negotiations (after the 'political agreement' of the Bonn Accord). The agreement was declared ambiguous, and Australia, Japan, Canada and Russia proposed many amendments, which some other delegates felt "effectively unravelled any progress" and left them with "deep disappointment and frustration."
One expert in the creation of such legalistic obstacles to agreement was to be found throughout the conference, schmoozing in the politicians' area. Don Perlman, the socalled 'High Priest of the Carbon Club', has attended every climate negotiation to date, and has done more than any other single individual to obstruct the development of an international treaty on climate change. A lawyer by training, his tactic is to brief country delegations - especially from the oil-producing Middle Eastern countries - on what to argue for as a spoiling tactic. Greenpeace spotted him during COP-6 bis giving US Chief Negotiator Paula Dobriansky a hug as they parted in an elevator in the conference centre.
Deeply secretive and manipulative, Perlman's accreditation is as representative of an 'NGO' called the Climate Council, whose members and corporate backers he has never revealed. When the Corporate Europe Observer put Mike Wrigglesworth's point on transparency to him, he growled back in his Deep South drawl, "Well, I d'unt kinda geddinta the... phila-saphical ishoos." (trans: "I don't get into the philosophical issues").
Another old hand present at the talks was ExxonMobil's Brian Flannery, this time accredited as a representative of the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA). He had attended COP-6 on behalf of the ICC. Meanwhile his own company opposes the Kyoto Protocol outright. Flannery's easy change of hats, just like BP's participation in groups ranging from the relatively moderate Pew Centre to the anti- Kyoto US Council for International Business, shows industry using all the tools available to influence the process.
Corporations 1 - Governments 0
While at first glance, the business views on climate change are surprisingly diverse, in fact it is of use to all of them if the process of reaching a climate agreement is as slow as possible, even if it has been made thoroughly toothless. The experience of the climate process adds one more weapon to the armoury of the anti- regulation free-trade lobby, which tries to argue that while governments fail to make progress (which, of course they claim is nothing to do with industry influence), unregulated business is developing the solutions. As the World Energy Council put it after COP-6, "Long negotiations on the main areas of disagreement, such as the details of the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms (Clean Development Mechanism, Joint Implementation and Emissions Trading), compliance related issues and carbon sequestration have not brought the expected results meanwhile industry is getting on with the job of market driven solutions which address the problem."
The final result of Bonn? Uncapped use of flexible mechanisms, generous allowances for sinks, and a disputed non-binding system for compliance. The ICC muttered approvingly, "ICC -the world business organisation -recognises considerable progress has been made in Bonn, largely thanks to governments participating in a more rational and business-like process than before."
Meanwhile it is not business that will take responsibility (and even less, liability) when climate catastrophe occurs. The wrenching of the climate agenda from the hands of business has become a matter of urgency.
1: 'Ministers' agreement on Kyoto: "geopolitical earthquake" ', WWF press release, 23 July 2001. | Back to Text |
2: 'Kyoto still afloat. But It's Taken On Water', Friends of the Earth press release, 23 July 2001. | Back to Text |
3: 'Greenpeace Hails Major Political Victory for the Climate', Greenpeace press release, 27 July 2001. | Back to Text |
4: See, for example, 'Europe Inc', Corporate Europe Observatory. Pluto Press 2000. See also Corporate Europe Observer Issue 8 April 2001. | Back to Text |
6: 'Business: part of the solution' International Chamber of Commerce leaflet for COP-6 (part 2). | Back to Text |
7: 'Corporate America and the Kyoto climate treaty', Greenpeace briefing, July 2001. | Back to Text |
8: World Business Council for Sustainable Development, International Chamber of Commerce, International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association, Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe, United States Council for International Business, International Emissions Trading Association. | Back to Text |
9: BP actually later spoke in favour of the Protocol, and called for ratification, during COP7 (AAP, 7/ 11/ 01, 'BP says Kyoto Protocol must be ratified'). Perhaps it felt the Protocol had been sufficiently watered-down by that stage to be supportable. BP, despite its attempts at a green image, has the highest target of any oil company for increasing its rate of extraction of oil and gas - a 5.5-7% increase year-on-year - so clearly the company does not expect world demand for fossil fuels to decrease, as it hopes to sell it in increasing quantities. | Back to Text |
10: 'The case for forestry' Future Forests, July 2001. | Back to Text |
11: 'Analysis of the Pronk proposal of 21 July 2001', WWF, 22/ 7/ 01. | Back to Text |
12: International Institute for Sustainable Development, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Vol. 12 No. 176 COP-6. bis Final Summary. | Back to Text |
13: Greenpeace Daily Update, 19 July 2001. | Back to Text |
14: 'Industry is acting while governments are reacting', World Energy Council press release, 29 November 2000. | Back to Text |
15: 'Business statement on climate change', International Chamber of Commerce, 23 July 2001. | Back to Text |