Climate Watch

Battle of the business lobbies in Paris

COP 21.jpg

The 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties, or COP21, in Paris ends on Friday. Who will be the winners and who the losers.

That climate change and the debate about who or what is causing global warming has become big business in itself, with massive involvement of conflicting interest groups, can no longer be doubted.

It is best illustrated by the fact that more than 180 “business events,” linked to the meeting and lobby groups aiming at influencing the outcomes from COP21, have been scheduled in Paris to coincide with the meeting.

The fact that some 50 000 people from 147 countries around the globe is in Paris for the occasion tells in itself a story of how big and important the climate caravan has become.

How titanic the battle between opposing groups have become – outcomes with important implications also for South Africa – becomes clear form two articles on the subject published last week.

One by academic Bobby Banerjee of the City University of London on The Conversation website, taking a global look, deals with which businesses are at COP21 and what do they want.

The second article by the CEO of the South African Institute of Race relations, Frans Cronjé, although also taking a broad global view on what he calls a “forced consensus,” puts some South African and African perspective on the matter.

Unlike Banerjee, Cronje and the IRR does not accept the “forced consensus” that climate change is man-made. On the effect of some of the likely results to come out of COP21, however, they agree.

Banerjee divides the business lobbies present in Paris into two broad categories:

  • The “good guys” – companies in the renewable energy business and technology companies offering products and services for environmental protection, energy efficiency, water and soil conservation, and “clean agriculture;” and
  • The “bad guys” – oil and gas companies, mining corporations, electricity generators and other fossil fuel-based industries, eagerly promoting their green credentials;” and

The most influential groups are the trade and industry associations that focus their attention on policy makers, attempting to ensure business friendly policies. A study by the Policy Studies Institute found that 77% of the Fortune 500 corporations lobbied climate policy makers through their trade associations.

Global carbon price

There seem to be a broad consensus amongst these groups presenting themselves as “responsible business,” is that most important is the fixing of a global “carbon price” as tool to incentivise low carbon innovation and deliver a stable policy framework for business.

Such a framework will also facilitate a market for emissions trading and Banerjee in essence argue that this will amount to little more than rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. It will have little effect on the overall global emissions of greenhouse gasses.

It simply will serve to raise the cost of fossil fuel energy and do nothing to lower the costs of alternative energy sources. All the major oil companies have internal carbon prices in place, yet they continue to invest in fossil fuels, he writes.

The IRR in turn, in a recent policy document, Climate change science and the climate change scare argued that the carbon tax being considered by the South African government “will harm the economy, add even more layers of obstructive bureaucracy to already struggling industry, and stifle economic growth. The poor will suffer most. The carbon tax will do absolutely nothing to protect the environment. On the contrary, it will injure it.”

Debate not over

From Cronjé’s article of last week, in which he analyses the reaction to the IRR the policy document – which argues that the dominating “climate science” is no real science but rather a “scare story” – it is clear that the debate is far from over.

In the policy document Andrew Kenny writes: “Anyone who questions the climate scare is faced with furious denunciation from the climate establishment. The denunciation consists of curses (“denialist!”), the questioning of motives (“You’re a stooge of the oil companies!), accusations of mental instability, and comparisons with various false beliefs of the past (‘You’re just like those who: said the world was flat, denied HIV caused AIDS, denied cigarettes cause cancer etc’).

“The denunciation seldom if ever rests on any scientific evidence. This is hardly surprising since there is no scientific evidence to show that mankind is changing the climate in a dangerous way.”

In his article of last week Cronje points out that two of the world’s leading think tanks, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, now promote related views.

Likely outcome

Banerjee on the other hand is very sceptical that, in the face of the competing lobbies in Paris, the champions of the fight against climate change will achieve the results they wish for.

“Ultimately business involvement at COP21 will ensure there is no ‘distortion of competitiveness in the global market’ as the International Chamber of Commerce Climate Working Group puts it. And as long as business-friendly proposals continue to define climate policy, as they have in the past, there can never be any meaningful climate action,” he writes.

He concludes: “Business as usual will continue, despite all the pledges and climate summits. Climate policy, friendly or otherwise, needs to drive business if new business models are to emerge – not the other way round. Otherwise, as environmentalist Bill McKibben warns us “even before we run out of oil, we will be running out of planet.”

By the time that COP21 – a talk shop of huge proportion, the cost of which one business consortium alone contributed in the order of R520 million to – ends this Friday, for the various debates surrounding climate change it will also remain “business as usual.”

Probably the most important one, considering the direct costs and broader socio-economic implications for especially emerging regions like Africa, is the either/or debate on whether to fight or adapt to climate change.

                                                                                                                                                                  by Piet Coetzer                                                                                                                                                                 

Also read: Sea level rise is real – which is why we need to retreat from unrealistic advice

                     Look to our religious leaders for a climate change Plan B

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