A Conference of Polluters

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This is the second of a series of blog posts crossposted from the Mark. Amara will be writing for The Mark throughout the month, keeping people in Canada up to date as discussions unfold.  

The Canadian government’s collusion with corporate lobbies comes under fire at the climate negotiations.

Year after year, a circus comes to town. Over the next two weeks, it is corporate and political clowns that will descend on Durban, South Africa to dazzle and wow the crowd. But they will then move on, leaving things unchanged and unresolved as we await the next circus in the next city, next year.

This is the narrative that has developed outside the 17th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dubbed the “Conference of Polluters” by many civil society groups. Local activists have put acall out to the clowns in all of us (the baobab tree in the official COP17 logo is a perfect jester’s hat!) because despite the growing political and scientific consensus around the threat of climate change, “the UN [has been] paralyzed into inaction, with powerful corporate voices drowning out any real solutions to climate change.”

Corporate participation in the United Nations climate change negotiations falls under the broader category of civil society engagement, designed to create a more inclusive and participatory process. However, polluting corporations with observer status often have an obstructive and undue influence over the negotiations as a result of their considerable advantage in resources and vested interest in a weak outcome.

These same corporations are now lobbying to become official parties at the negotiations with the same level of access granted to states.

Many countries have industry representatives in their delegations and corporate participation in the negotiations ranges from direct lobbying of official delegations to funding and investment in UN projects and partnerships. Last week, the Polaris Institute and Greenpeace released damning reports on corporate influence in the negotiations that are cause for alarm.

Canada is no exception when it comes to corporate influence over climate policy. For this reason, the Canadian Youth Delegation launched BituMen’s Wear: Slick suits for slick negotiators on the opening day of the COP17 negotiations. The negotiating uniforms, as well as the corresponding website, illustrate Canada’s negotiating priorities by displaying the logos of those companies that drive our government’s irresponsible climate policy.

Ties to the oil industry run deep in the Canadian delegation. Representatives from Suncor, Nexen, and EnCana, oil companies heavily involved in the tar sands, were part of the Canadian delegations to COP 4, COP 8, and COP13. During the last election, the former CEO of EnCana, an Enbridge subsidiary, was one of the closest advisers to Prime Minister Harper. The government is simultaneously deregulating and subsidizing tar sands development while lobbying to weaken international oil import regulations. Under the Harper government, the collusion is now out in the open: On Monday, Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent said Canada plans to defend the tar sands in Durban as “ethical” and reliable.

The UNFCCC is the only negotiating platform where every country, in theory, has an equal voice. However, years of stalled progress at these multilateral negotiations have made it abundantly clear that if the process is to deliver a just and binding climate deal, corporate influence needs to go. At a meeting of civil society members last week, one organizer told us that using humour is the best way to undermine authority. This year, we can fully expect civil society representatives to have a few tricks up their sleeves. Hand me my clown nose.

The Canadian Youth Delegation’s campaign to combat corporate lobbying can be found here.

One Response to “A Conference of Polluters”
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  1. […] It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that these negotiations are, at least in practice, driven by the fossil fuel industry and its stakeholders. The designated free speech zone outside the conference (a triangular patch of grass in the middle […]

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