Endless Stalemate: How Fossil Fuel Interests Are Killing Climate Action

By David Cromwell

The devastation wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has led to heart-wrenching scenes of human suffering, with the death toll now put at over 5,000 and likely to rise still further. Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippines climate delegation, gave a moving speech at the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, linking the typhoon to global warming, and then went on a hunger strike which would last, he said, ‘until we stop this madness’.

Sadly, the madness looks set to continue if we recognise that the corporate media is an integral part of the problem: pulverising us with corporate advertising to encourage increased levels of consumption and planetary resource depletion, while averting our gaze from the root cause of the climate problem; namely, corporate-led global capitalism.

News reports and editorials were ultra-cautious not to link Typhoon Haiyan directly to climate change; either not mentioning climate change at all, or providing the worn-out disclaimer that individual weather events cannot be attributed to global warming. But as Kevin Trenberth, senior climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, said last year:

‘The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.’ 

Climate scientist Peter Gleick noted that data in the form of ‘unusually high sea levels and warm temperatures’ supported the claim that climate change had influenced Typhoon Haiyan. 

Peter Hart, a media analyst with Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, emphasised the point that mattered:

‘There is no way that one massive hurricane will be stamped “Created by Climate Change,” while another would be considered a “normal” hurricane.

‘These catastrophes are occurring, and will continue to occur, in a climate that has been undeniably altered. Waiting for the “real” climate change-caused storms to hit before talking about climate change is illogical and irresponsible.’

Sadly, the corporate world, with the corporate media a vital supporting pillar propping up the system, has long shown that it is irresponsible.


The Business Fix Of False Solutions

Meanwhile, politicians have been paying lip service, at best, to the risk of climate catastrophe, just as they have since UN climate talks led to the ineffectual Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The latest fix bandied about at climate talks is a ‘global carbon market “toolbox” ‘ thus ‘making climate change targets more achievable’. The farce quickly becomes evident on further reading: ‘governments have proposed launching a framework‘ to create ‘a single voluntary platform to share ideas, with a view to eventually launching a global market to battle climate change.’ (Emphasis added.)

This sums up how the world works. The planet is rapidly and dangerously overheating, but elite economic and financial interests, with bought-for governments under their corporate thumbs, will nevertheless continue to do whatever they can to retain profit and power. So, for instance, they’ll devise a ‘toolbox’ in a ‘global market’ for that to happen, and it will be cynically sold to the public as a means of ‘battling climate change’.

Indeed, for years corporate elites have lobbied intensely behind the scenes at UN climate talks to steer any agreement in their direction. Worse, they don’t want any ‘sweeping international treaties’ at all, as these are seen as:

‘no longer the key for charting the planet’s path to sustainable development. Instead, partnerships among governments, businesses, and NGOs hold the most promise for measurable progress on sustainability issues, including climate change.’

As for the climate talks themselves, the campaigning group Corporate Europe Observatory has exposed what the corporate media is happy to overlook; namely that corporate polluters are poised to gain most from the talks: 

‘The EU aims to expand carbon markets that would benefit big polluters at the UN climate talks, COP19 in Poland, says a Statement signed by 135+ groups, movements and networks from all over the world. The Statement denounces the corporate capture of COP19 by the same companies that stand to profit.’

The Brussels-based group, which monitors and challenges the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporate lobby groups in EU policy making, added:

‘COP19 is the first UN climate talks to have corporate sponsorship, with some of the biggest climate crooks as official “partners”, including ArcelorMittal, Alstom and BMW.’

ArcelorMittal is the world’s biggest steel company and Alstom is a French conglomerate with major interests in power generation and transmission.

A new report, ‘COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying: Climate Crooks and the Polish Government’s Partners in Crime’, published jointly by Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute (TNI), shows how:

‘Big business, industry and finance, keen to set the agenda and shape the rules in the interests of their profits – and at the expense of climate justice – have infiltrated COP19.’

These elite actors not only include giant fossil fuel companies, but wider business groups, financial interests, agribusiness and agrofuels, as well as other polluting industries. A sobering infographic on the TNI website displays the power interests ‘behind the scenes’, explaining succinctly ‘why UN climate negotiations never work’.

It is therefore unsurprising that NGOs finally had enough of the climate talks in Warsaw and walked out in protest last week, with one campaigner saying:

‘It has become quite flagrantly obvious that progress to reach any legally binding climate treaty is being obstructed by the lobbying forces of the fossil fuel industry.’

Even after campaigners had walked out of the climate talks, our searches of the Lexis database found not a single newspaper report into the real extent and intensity of corporate lobbying on climate in any of the national UK newspapers. At best, there was just a passing mention in a tiny handful of opinion pieces about ‘vested interests’ or fossil-fuel lobbying that sought to ‘deliver watered down versions’ of the ‘effective instrument’ of carbon markets. In particular, there was not a single news article about the eye-opening report on corporate lobbying by Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute exposing the hollowness of current UN climate talks.

Following the NGO walkout from the UN talks, the Guardian did go as far as publishing an online opinion piece by Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, which touched on the ‘corporate sponsorship’ of the climate summit, quoting one of the campaigners responsible for the report on industry lobbying:

‘This is perhaps the most corporate climate talks we have ever experienced.’

But this was a rare and brief foray into the reality of the huge corporate forces that are obstructing climate sanity.


Climate Science ‘Really Clear’ That ‘We Need Radical Change’

Goodman presented Democracy Now! from the UN climate talks and interviewed Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin, two British scientists from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. They rightly observed that ‘runaway global warming’ is not being addressed by world leaders, and they pointed to the urgent need for ‘radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the United States, EU and other wealthy nations.’ This was a welcome and much-needed intervention from two climate scientists who have refused to be hidebound by academic conventions of what it is ‘politic’ to say – or not say.

They called for ‘reparation’ to be paid by the ‘traditional polluters’, namely the industrialised countries, to poorer nations to help them develop ‘renewable, low-carbon energy systems’ and a decent quality of life for their people. The scientists also supported the walkout by climate campaigners and, admirably, encouraged other climate scientists to be more vocal in demanding the radical action that is needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Professor Anderson spoke bluntly:

‘I think the scientific community has for too long really let the policymakers, and indeed the wider public, down, that we haven’t been as vociferous as we should have been about what our science is telling us. So, our science is telling us, and has told us, to be honest, for 10 to 15 years at least, that—you know, explain the situation that we’re in and that we need these radical levels of change. But we have not—we have not translated that in a language that indicates how important that is. We have used language which is more acceptable to the policymakers. It’s more politically palatable. So we’ve converted, you know, “impossible within the current economic framework” to “a little bit challenging.” Now, that’s not a fair reflection of what our analysis is showing us.’

He added:

‘Our role as scientists is to stand up for the analysis that we do. And if it is misused, we should be louder and louder and louder about how it is being misused. But at the moment, there is pressure […] for us as scientists to stay quite quiet about this, just to say, “Oh, it’s an issue, a problem that we can resolve in the current way of thinking.” You know, that’s all rubbish. The analysis and the maths are really clear about this now. We need radical change.’

As Naomi Klein notes in a recent piece titled, ‘How science is telling us all to revolt’:

‘So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.’

Meanwhile, like the rest of the corporate media, the ‘impartial’ and publicly-funded BBC News largely avoids exposing the truth behind the failure to tackle the climate crisis. Instead, it bemoans ‘the scale of what can be achieved in any new deal’, and misleadingly calls this abysmal state of affairs ‘realism’. But in a rapidly and dangerously warming world, ‘realism’ means capitulating to the state-corporate elites that are driving humanity towards the abyss of climate chaos.

Veteran environment writer Andy Rowell did not mince his words: the UN talks are a ‘charade’ and hundreds of campaigners had rightly said: ‘Enough is enough’. He added:

‘The bottom line is that the ability of current policies to achieve meaningful climate action is being undermined by the fossil fuel industry. As it has for the last 20 years. As it has been for every UN climate meeting.’

In a nutshell: ‘the political stalemate is due to the fossil fuel industry.’

Rowell suggests that we learn from the example of tobacco. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control warns of the ‘fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.’ Just as public health policies have been protected from vested tobacco interests, so should UN climate talks ‘exclude the villains from the climate process’: namely, fossil fuel interests.

In an interview with The Real News Network, campaigner Rachel Tansey, lead author of the COP19 corporate lobbying report, cogently made the same point:

‘…do you see the World Health Organization inviting big tobacco companies like Philip Morris to its conferences on how to stop the harm that tobacco causes? No, you don’t.’

Rowell correctly concluded:

‘It is now time to kick the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry out of the UN process. There is a “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict” between the fossil fuel industry interests and those trying to fight climate change.’

Not a single national newspaper in the UK has called for fossil fuel interests to be kept out of UN climate talks. On a planet that is rapidly warming out of control, that in itself is a damning indictment of the so-called ‘free press’.