Fossil fuel industry can’t answer why they should be allowed in climate negotiation

Do the fossil fuel companies think themselves as the rightful participant in international negotiations to reduce emissions and fight climate change? Do they have any solution to climate change? If yes, why I cannot find any news report, where an International Oil Company has responded to specific questions on it?

These were the questions in my head last month when I was working for a story on the upcoming 22nd conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The demand of not allowing fossil fuel in any climate negotiation drew my attention.

Since the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development summit in 2012, a large and growing number of countries and environmental bodies are demanding to ‘outlaw’ fossil fuel industry from climate negotiations.

Particularly, the 21st conference of the parties to the UNFCCC in Paris last year was largely marked by this demand. And, of course, I’ve strong opinion about fighting climate change. Nevertheless, we should not carry a commitment to any cause into our journalism, as ‘the most trusted man in America’ already warned us.

Therefore, I have talked with insiders in many major IOCs about their perspective and got back to the climate activists to see how they rebut the arguments supporting fossil fuel companies’ role in climate negotiations. Then I have formally approached the top IOCs with specific questions.

‘We would not turn to tobacco companies to quit smoking’

This catchphrase by Pascoe Sabido underlies the ‘conflict of interest’ argument against the fossil fuel companies’ role in climate negotiations. Mr. Pascoe, a researcher, and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory was at forefront of civil society mobilization during Paris summit.

I was reminding him that, the insiders in IOCs say, gradual phase-out to low-carbon and renewable needs to be acknowledged and included in the climate negotiations, hence they need to have their voice at the COP 22 and all other future forums.

So, why Corporate Europe Observatory does not think so?

‘‘Firstly, the COP is a place for governments and policymakers to decide how we tackle climate change. It is not a place for those very same industries responsible for causing the problem. We would not turn to tobacco companies to quit smoking, and having their voice represented would only make it harder to quit smoking,’’ Mr. Pascoe says.

‘‘We need a similar measure not just within the UNFCCC but also at national level, as that is where most of the influencing takes place,’’ he says.

Secondly, the problem with gradual phase-out, Mr. Pascoe says, it is just contrary to the science of climate change. ‘‘The solutions proposed by the fossil fuel industry are at complete odds with what science is demanding: that we need to leave more than 80% of known recoverable fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we want to stay under 2c, let alone 1.5c, i.e. not gradual phase-out.’’

However, during the surge of anti-tobacco legislations in the late nineties when public health advocates began winning policy victories, the tobacco companies never said that they‘d ditch the very product gradually. But the IOCs now are claiming that they are working for a major shift to low carbon fossil fuel and renewable alternatives. So does not the tobacco precedence loose a bit of merit in the case of ‘conflict of interest’ by IOCs in climate negotiation?

‘No’, says Pascoe Sabido, because similar to the tobacco companies the fossil fuel companies are keeping their traditional business models as such. ‘‘The fossil fuel industries have consistently been shown to lobby against tougher climate legislation and measures which would move us towards a zero carbon society. The current approach is to claim that there is such thing as ‘low-carbon’ fossil fuels, through either gas or carbon capture or storage. Both are ways to keep their traditional business models but give the impression of being part of the solution,’’ he says.

So, then I have asked a large number of fossil fuel companies some specific questions to get the other side of the story, formally. Maybe some people will say, in spite of having all the strong argument, evidence, and rationale for fossil-fuel free climate negotiation, it is a ‘false balance’ what I am trying to maintain. Then let it be, I should say.

If the arguments of climate experts and environmentalists are really convincing, then the future of our planet is at stake because of non-effective climate negotiations owing mainly due to ‘undue’ influence of the fossil fuel companies. So, I have found myself intrigued about exactly what these companies, their officials are thinking. Do they really have any argument to put forward?

Another climate summit to distribute Press-kit?

My questions to Saudi Aramco, top five European IOCs, Chevron, and a newly formed ‘climate group’ by fossil fuel companies were as follows, more or less;

1. Since the Paris summit, a number of developing countries and environmental bodies are saying, implementation of the Paris Agreement means reducing emissions from fossil fuel, which is directly in conflict with the interest of fossil fuel companies. So, they are calling for not accepting fossil fuel companies as stakeholders in climate negotiations. How would you like to respond to this argument?

2. Many major climate groups and environmental bodies urge that fossil fuel industry has no interest in ambitious climate policy as outlined in UNFCCC. They say, without any act or initiative, what the companies are now doing is just PR campaign. Are the climate activists wrong? How?

3. Is your company willing to align its polluting business with the agreed goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C? How have you planned to do it?

4. Climate groups say that they do not trust fossil fuel companies about their willingness to fight climate change. Because, for decades, fossil fuel companies have undermined attempts to find solutions to emission and global warming, although the companies knew of the existence of climate change for so long. How have you planned to build the trust?

During a two-week long quest to get elaborate and engaging response from the IOCs, what I have noticed as most interesting is, the companies love to pretend that they were not asked about anything specific.

Rather, in response, most of the companies prefer to cite some paragraphs from their ‘climate policy’, which are already available on their website along with photos of soothing greenery or deep blue horizon to the Ocean.

The case was same with the US-based giant Chevron, which has business in at least 180 countries. It’s corporate media advisor Melissa Ritchie replied that Chevron ‘‘shares the concerns of governments and the public about climate change risks and recognizes that the use of fossil fuels to meet the world’s energy needs is a contributor to rising greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth’s atmosphere.’’ Then came two paragraphs on technology innovation and effective climate change mitigation, but nothing specific about the questions.

Eni, the European oil giant with the presence in more than 79 countries and world’s 11th largest industrial company, informed that they are working on to deliver responses. However, after several correspondences and extended deadlines, it informed that they are postponing ‘comments on the occasion of COP 22’.

Other European companies were briefer in response. However, Saudi Aramco, the company with both the world’s largest proven crude oil reserves and largest daily oil production, was clearly ahead. After several requests to respond, Saudi Aramco said, ‘Our team will be at COP22 and will provide you with the necessary press kit material during the event.’

But I’m already done with all the press kits which actually says nothing. The argument is that you should not be allowed at COP22 or other climate negotiations. Could you please respond  to that? I asked again.

Chairman of Saudi Aramco, Mr. Khalid A. Al-Falih, who is also Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Health, has delivered a much-praised speech at the 2014 UN Climate Summit. Former CEO of Aramco, Mr. Khalid announced the launching of a ‘climate group’ comprising CEOs of 10 oil and gas companies in that summit.

Combined, this Oil and Gas Climate Initiative companies produce over one-fifth of global oil and gas. Are they ready to keep it on the ground, as required for reducing emissions to achieve agreed goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C? Are they willing to change their polluting business? Why exactly they think they are entitled to be in climate negotiations? Do they really have a plan?

After repeated correspondence, OGCI says ‘we are unable to respond to your specific questions right now’.

With hope and Walter Conkrite on my mind, I am looking forward. I really want to explore based on what rationale the fossil fuel companies consider themselves as rightful stakeholders in climate negotiations.

(This piece was originally published by Daily Sun on October 3, 2017)

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