Business as usual

The UN climate change conference at The Hague witnessed a complete integration of big business into the Kyoto Protocol process and confirmed the fears of many activists that the real goals of the Protocol are being undermined in the relentless pursuit of profits.

by Yin Shao Loong

GONE were the display tables. Sponsorship logos were discreet and unobtrusive. The Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the UN climate change treaty in The Hague saw such a complete integration of business into the Kyoto Protocol process that one could have forgotten that the private sector ever challenged climate change.

In the great halls, national delegates set forth their respective views and positions to an audience that was rapidly succumbing to the stuffiness of the central heating. Meanwhile, in the rooms around the plenary sessions, a frenzy of activity was taking place as business groups attempted to capture the attention and investment of delegates.

Organisations from the World Bank, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) to the Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA) expounded on topics such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), CDM certification, technology transfer, emissions trading markets, carbon sequestration, energy solutions and the benefits of public-private sector cooperation.

[The CDM was to be set up under the Protocol as a way to transfer energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies to developing countries, but there are pressures to include forestry projects in the name of ‘carbon sinks’, and nuclear, large hydropower and business-as-usual fossil fuel projects. Credits to offset the investor’s carbon reduction commitments will then be earned for financing such projects.]

These ‘special events’ were an open acknowledgement of business as perhaps the key player in the efforts of the UN agencies. Opening sessions of COP6 welcomed the recently formed Global Compact between business and the UN. There were joint presentations from the UNFCCC Secretariat, UNEP, UNDP, UNIDO, UNCTAD and the WBCSD on engaging the private sector in CDM capacity building and emissions trading.

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Klaus Toepfer sat down with world business leaders at a working lunch hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to discuss how they could ‘meet to combat climate change.’

Ready for the market

If or when it comes, entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol will mean big business opportunities in the form of an emerging market of tradeable greenhouse gas emissions that is presently hungry for buyers. Companies wasted little time in preparing ready-made solutions for uncertain delegates at The Hague.

BP, for example, has been able to boast of a track record of over a year of emissions trading. Although conducted entirely between divisions of the company, this allowed BP as well as rivals Royal Dutch/Shell to bombard delegates with analyses of the three market-based strategies sanctioned under the Protocol: Joint Implementation, emissions trading and the CDM.

The companies have furthermore collaborated with the big accountancy firms and conservative policy organisations to produce the appearance of an industry-NGO greenhouse gas trading consensus. Partner organisations include PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and the World Resources Institute as well as the WBCSD.

Oil in sheep’s clothing

The oil companies made a serious effort to assert their presence, not in their own delegations, but through ‘non-governmental’ third parties such as the WBCSD, whose 140-person delegation included 43 from Royal Dutch/Shell alone. The contingent included many senior members of the company.

Shell chairman Mark Moody-Stuart himself was present under the WBCSD aegis to present his views on the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force of which he is co-chair. The Task Force, given a mandate at the Okinawa G8 (Group of Eight industrial nations) Summit, is geared not towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions of the G8 but, rather, those of developing countries.

The Task Force closely mirrors the diplomatic position of the G8 countries, especially the US, which presently favour purchasing ‘hot air’ from Russia and carbon sink credits from developing countries, and utilising the CDM to bypass political-industry hurdles at home.

The intention is not to focus solely on energy-based climate solutions but to bundle those with poverty alleviation, climate change, pollution control and establishing profitable energy markets. The Task Force would seek to emulate bilateral development agencies in its attempts to combine business interests with environmental preservation in developing countries.

According to Moody-Stuart, the Task Force is dedicated to raising the quality of life in developing countries. It aims to achieve this by identifying examples of best practice in renewable energy-based projects for replication worldwide.

Also present were the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). USAID suggested that Ôdemocracy programmes’ be bundled with energy projects while CSD said that it would welcome a report from the Task Force in time for the CSD session this year which focuses on transport and energy.

Moody-Stuart also stated: ‘The capacity of communities to select what's suitable for them (is important), not what we think is a good idea.’

In contrast, across the city from the grand convention centre, at a meeting on Climate Justice, local communities fighting against Shell in Nigeria, South Africa and Louisiana (US) testified to the continuing destruction of their land, water, air and health. ‘Shell has lied to us,’ said Bobby Peek, who grew up next to oil refineries in South Durban and is a leading community activist who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1998.

‘If they cannot keep their promises in one plant to one community, how can we trust what they say and promise here?’ he asked.

It is clear that the business community is using the Kyoto Protocol process and recent renewable energy acquisitions to seize the moral high ground. Although environmental groups and other NGOs were present at the COP6 meeting, they and the developing countries have yet to mount a critical challenge to the pervasive business presence.   

Yin Shao Loong is presently reading Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, London. He has worked on sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, and as an independent media-journalist.